The following essay means to consider questions which will, for exceptionally good reasons, interest only a few people. To give some examples: given that if you really understand and unflinchingly think about modern scientific theories of mind and consciousness, those theories are pretty scary, can a Catholic honestly confront them, in a manner that is neither anti-scientific nor unfaithful; which is to say, honestly appraise them while neither dismissing them as insufficiently 'Aristotelian,' nor risk being sucked into the comfortable, 'with-it' unfaithfulness of smooth, pseudo-sophisticated, modern academic Catholic-lite 'dissent'? Is there any fully Catholic resolution to the deep and seemingly insoluble conundrums that both C.S. Lewis, and in particular, the towering Catholic genius Christopher Dawson, found that man confronts while living in a 'complex' socio-cultural ecology? And so forth.
This is a long essay, well over 20,000 words. To help you decide if you'd like to wade in, I'll introduce two of the most important points up front. First, however, I should warn off most people in advance.
The following is a discussion of some of the lineaments and underpinnings of moral theology; it isn't moral theology, and it certainly isn't of any immediate practical use. Normal Catholics might ask a question like "Is it wrong to change what you give up for Lent?" Some people are concerned about whether a sharp business practice, regularly employed in the industry, may cross the line into immoral behavior, or whether the real sin is indulging a misplaced, goo-goo sentimentalism that has no place in either business or ethics, the exercise of which would have the twin effects of increasing your prestige in certain circles, and of losing business, and thus risking the well-being of real employees with real families. Other people idly wonder whether one of the numerous bribes they regularly collect could be deemed "excessive." These are all good questions, to be sure, and worthy of serious answers, but you won't find any here.
Faithful Catholics who are not interested in, and would be made very nervous by, the highly speculative thinking contained in this essay, probably shouldn't be here. From your point of view, this discussion will be a series of possibly alarming or inexplicable digressions, followed by the conclusion that you should go home, love God, love your neighbor, stay ever so close to the sacraments, and obey the Ten Commandments in exactly the manner that the Catholic Church teaches. In other words, unless you are wildly interested in moral theology as a science, as an academic discipline, stop reading here.
If you are not a geeky cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, neurobiologist, etc., then a big yellow caution sign should go up. I don't say anything 'technical', by the standards of professionals, but by the standards of normal people, some of it may be pretty hard going, for I assume a context of background knowledge that you may share only sporadically. And if the word "evolution" rolling around comfortably in the mouth of a believing, confession-going (isn't that the real litmus test these days?) Catholic alarms you, you should definitely leave right away. From your point of view, I'll prove to be invincibly ignorant on the topic. For both our sakes, just pray for me, OK?
For anybody interested in weird theoretical speculations on fundamental topics in ethics, morality, and moral agency, particularly Catholics, the most important point made here is that moral theology as it has been practiced and developed has a underlying fundamental problem: it is not Catholic enough. You may have heard it said that St. Thomas Aquinas "baptized" Aristotle; that is, he made Aristotelian thought consonant with the revelation given in Christ and professed by his Catholic Church. No, he didn't. To the contrary, it is methodologically impossible for any existing Catholic moral theology, including that of Aquinas, to simultaneously proceed from its first principles, and to say that Jesus is Lord.
I'm not suggesting that Aquinas's moral theology, or that of any other Doctor of the Church, is not Catholic; just that it's not Catholic enough. Moral theology's subject matter is the worship, professions, and teachings of the Catholic Church. Like all sciences, moral theology is an inquiry into its subject matter; it is not, and can never be, its subject matter. Moral theology's sole purpose is, through inquiry, to help us understand and live out what has been given to us by the living and Risen Christ as professed and handed on by the living magisterium of Jesus's one and only bride, the Catholic Church. A mistake in moral theology no more harms the Reality it studies (the worship, professions, and teachings of the Church) than a mistake in physics places even one atom in jeopardy. A science, of which moral theology is one, studies reality; it does not create it. Catholics, particularly saints, can make progress on moral theology's project, and truly help us to better understand and live out the professions of the Church, but we're always going to come up short - even saints who are also practical, theoretical, or spiritual geniuses.
So in one sense, we're always going to be able to say that our moral theology isn't Catholic enough, that we can do better. That's the nature of the beast. On the other hand, if first principles in moral theology make it inevitable that we can not logically make something absolutely central to the Catholic profession - such as "Jesus is Lord" - part of moral theology, but rather have to shoehorn it in as an afterthought, then that's a problem. The problems we encounter when we do science in no way jeopardize the reality under study. Accordingly, that particular problem in moral theology in no way jeopardizes the Lordship of Jesus Christ; the problem is in moral theology, not in the Reality it studies, which, thankfully, continues unperturbed by our halting successes and our partial failures. And just as in any other science, we may not immediately know how to put together a moral theology that fixes the problem. Yet it is a big problem, and it should be worked on. I work on it a little here.
Just in passing: one thing that is a direct implication of the development here is the idea that work rather than 'intellection' is the fundamental category, and thus that the real moral theology of the Catholic Church, not as a romantic way of speaking but as the literal reality, is founded not on the activity of scholars, but on the work of the saints, however that is expressed, in practical no less than in intellectual terms. To make the previous sentence literally true, methodologically, systematically, and not just something nice we might say but don't really take seriously, does seem to require a revolution in our conception of moral agency and of rationality.
On the other hand, the proposed revolution depends on nothing more disturbing for the Catholic than whether the sacraments are real - on the strictest, most serious Catholic sacramental realism. So while the 'revolution' might be found to be unnecessary or even silly, and it would almost certainly be intellectually and perhaps even emotionally intimidating and difficult to try out, at least it would not be really scary.
Put differently, to undertake such a project would indeed be too scary for anyone for whom the sacraments are not real in exactly the way the Catholic Church professes. Which is to say, I'm going to propose something I call a 'fully-bodied' rationality. I'll argue that as weird as fully-bodied rationality is (and it's pretty weird), it is much preferable to any current alternative known to moral theologians; that (as I wrote just above) while a fully-bodied rationality may be weird, it's not really scary for Catholics; and finally, if it's closer to the truth than existing alternatives, that renders not only Greek philosophy but also Protestantism - indeed, any system that denies, or even fudges, Catholic sacramental realism - systematically incoherent.
Speaking of shoehorns, the issue that got me started on this piece was attempts by evolutionary anthropologists, etc., to find the origins of "morality" in the evolutionary jungle. A lot of it struck me as having about the level of scientific (and other) acumen as Margaret Mead's "studies" of the Samoans, if you know what I mean. (If you don't, that's another big sign that you probably shouldn't be here. This whole piece is an informal chat about highly abstruse things that probably deserve to interest only a small subset of geeks who are geeky about some things that even most geeks think are too geeky).
Here the root contention draws on Professor David C. Geary's delineation of "biologically primary" and "biologically secondary" social and cognitive skills. It further relies on the concept of 'folk physics' as distinct from the modern science of physics. I contend that at most, serious scientists can find no more than a 'folk morality' as our evolutionary heritage.
I propose that 'folk morality' evolved in relation to the context of the family and - at most - the small village, but also that, right along with our development of 'complex' socio-cultural ecologies like cities, we have also been developing a "biologically secondary" morality that is not a mere extension, however elaborate, of the "biologically primary" morality that evolved in large part within the context of the family and the small village.
If biologically secondary morality exists, it will have some notable characteristics in common with all biologically secondary social and cognitive skills. It won't "feel" like "real" "natural" morality, at least at first, and maybe never. It will never be culturally robust; which is to say, everybody will have to be taught it, and learning it will require active attention and normally, painstaking practice; and, unlike our biologically primary morality, through disaster, inaction, or inattentiveness, we could lose it utterly, and it wouldn't automatically "grow back." And so forth.
The concept of biologically secondary morality helps to resolve conundrums about moral agency within what I call 'complex' socio-cultural ecologies perhaps most acutely felt and most vividly expressed, not by academic moral theologians, but by a real Catholic genius, Christopher Dawson, and by C.S. Lewis. As a side benefit, the concept of biologically secondary morality will help both serious natural scientists, and Catholic thinkers, from too readily equating all moral thinking and activity with our "natural" or 'folk' moral sense.
The intellectual subtext of this essay is that a significant amount of the provisional wisdom within Catholic moral theology - in particular the concepts of moral agency and what it means to be "rational" - is played out. ('Provisional wisdom' here refers to concepts and assumptions long and usefully deployed, but not specifically part of the Church's profession). Those particular parts of the provisional wisdom of Catholic moral theology have pretty much lost their ability to increase our apprehension of what our Lord is teaching us in and through his Catholic Church.
These days, nearly everybody with an ax to grind claims to be playing the part of Galileo (not the actual Galileo, to be sure, but the one in popular, and anti-Catholic, consciousness) against the 'evil' 'hidebound' Catholic Church. It's become the classic cheap shot. So also has the charge that somebody called 'The Church' "better wake up," lest she, or the faithful, or the universe, or at least somebody, will suffer some dire consequence.
I assure you that absolutely nobody I know will suffer any consequence at all, dire or otherwise, if they never hear one word about "fully-bodied rationality" or anything else I write about here. I personally needed to think about things like that because stuff was bothering me. I have no idea whether what I worked on will be of use to anyone else. I'm posting it on the Internet because I spent a lot of time on it and maybe somebody else can use it.
That said, the claims I make here are still very large - one could even say, so large as to be ridiculous, preposterous. I'll be arguing not merely that moral theology's ideas about moral agency and rationality are intellectually, scientifically, played out, but much more significantly, that the concepts of moral agency and rationality used within current moral theology are demonstrably unfaithful to the Church's liturgy and profession -- that they're not Catholic enough. That's the really serious charge. I'm aware I'm making it, but I myself don't see any way around it. If I go in that direction, the stuff that was bothering me tends to resolve itself, but if I try to 'save the appearances' -- if I continue to use classic conceptions of moral agency and rationality -- all the stuff that was bothering me just keeps bothering me worse. Your mileage may vary.
To attempt to fix a problem is to risk adding more problems, while perhaps not even fixing the old one, and that's the risk I take here. However, as previously noted, not one iota of Catholic profession and moral teaching is argued with, let alone dissented from, in the present study. You really should - I mean it - stay ever so close to the sacraments, and obey the Ten Commandments in exactly the manner that the Catholic Church teaches. If anything I write here appears to you to argue to the contrary, ignore it, and do and believe what the Catholic Church teaches.
Finally, given that scholars who take up a pseudo-Catholic academic stance of 'dissent' thereby render their arguments not only wholly without any Catholic interest but also wholly unscientific, shallow per se, the fact remains that the remaining remnant of faithful Catholic scholars must necessarily devote their energies largely to the narrow and the technical, and certainly not to questioning whether their inquiry is "Catholic enough." Science proceeds by asking questions that a) stand on the shoulders of previous questions within the inquiry and b) look soluble. A bystander like myself, not subject to the necessary responsibilities of scholarship, does not intend to impugn, and really, can not impugn, the work of responsible Catholic scholars, by asking, "But is it Catholic enough?" For anybody can ask that question at any time, about anything. Nonetheless, it will ever be a good question.
Thus, for instance, Catholic scholars who would summarily dismiss 'fully-bodied' rationality as materialism would be incorrect at least about my intent. I propose 'fully-bodied' rationality in order to make rationality itself a theological category. For the era in which we considered 'pure nature' consonant with the professions and worship of the Catholic Church is coming to a close.
Preliminaries. The basis of moral agency is not a principle or concept, but the New Covenant in the Eucharistic Event, the nuptial union of Christ the Head, Christ the Bridegroom, with his Body and Bride, the Catholic Church. Notwithstanding the obvious abundance of moral theorizing, even Catholic moral theorizing, to the contrary, if a principle or concept is the foundation of moral agency, then Jesus is not the Lord, but rather, the principle or concept would be, because then even the meaningfulness of Jesus's own acts, the possibility of his own moral agency, would be subject to, dependent on, the principle or concept. Yet from the earliest days, the Catholic Church has unceasingly professed: Jesus is Lord.
Sciences, of which theology is one, are not to be confused with the Reality they honorably study. A science is not in the business of establishing a theory that is coterminous with Reality; its job is merely to ask questions of the Reality under study, generate theories that attempt to answer those questions, and then compare theories, particularly by experiment. The theory presented here says this: Jesus is Lord; therefore no principle or concept (or 'idea' or 'perfection', etc.) whatever can serve to found the moral agency of men. Many Catholic moral theologians have assumed, or postulated, or theorized, to the contrary: moral acts must be founded on principles or concepts to be meaningful. Very well. Theology is a science. Science proceeds by comparing one theory with another. The key test is always experimental: how well does each theory correspond to Reality?
Classic moral theology must either say that Jesus is the Lord, yet as Lord remains subservient (to a principle which makes his acts meaningful and moral) -- a contradiction; or it must say that the principle upon which moral agency is founded is fallen, so that Jesus, remaining true Lord, "subjected himself" to this fallen principle, as he did to all of our fallen nature, except for sin -- which makes fully moral and meaningful human acts in this life unavailable even to Jesus himself.
In classic moral theology, Jesus's own acts are merely "examples" of a higher truth -- a truth that must perforce be higher than the Lord of History himself. That, I submit, is an obvious problem. Yet there are entire schools of theology for whom the problem is neither obvious, nor a problem. I have been in classrooms at faithful Catholic universities, surrounded by faithful Catholic scholars, wherein somebody (not I, I was just an innocent bystander, in those classrooms with the heavyweights by accident) says something on the order of, "But this makes Jesus's own actions an 'example' of a higher truth," and discovered that the preponderance of reaction from those scholars was, So? The scheme that makes that sort of theology work makes it absolutely necessary to say things like that all the time. So the scholars were quite comfortable with the thought. I still wasn't.
However, there are some very good reasons to ignore the problem completely (that is, once we admit that it just possibly might be a problem). Indeed, moral theologians have gone to considerable lengths to satisfy themselves that all alternatives to the postulate that moral acts are founded on principles or concepts, lead to chaos, dissent, and sin. Their arguments are powerful, and some of them were made by geniuses and saints. Moreover, it is a profound historical truth that efforts to found moral acts on something other than time-less principles or concepts, rather rapidly led to theories that did indeed seem to encourage chaos, dissent, and sin, and never to theories that helped us gird ourselves against those evils.
Nonetheless, faithful Catholic moral theology really ought not to found itself on the proposition that Jesus is Lord -- except for every single one of his human acts, which are merely "examples" of a truth higher than He -- if any faithful alternative is available. To digress briefly: the key to the solution is the renewed - the truly baptized - notion of "substance" advanced by Fr. Donald J. Keefe, SJ, for example, in his magnum opus titled Covenantal Theology.
This essay, by contrast to Fr. Keefe's serious and scholarly work, is merely a speculative fantasy, a story based on science, that takes, not as its aim but as its daydream, the re-starting of faithful Catholic moral theology from the ground up, and it is too long as it is. It is up to others to dismiss or unpack its ideas as they will. Yet since the preceding few paragraphs put in issue something fundamental to faithful Catholic moral theology: its existence as a true science, a little more needs to be said.
Dissenting Catholic theology can have no Catholic interest, for it abandons the Reality under study. By that act of faithlessness also, all dissent becomes anti-scientific by definition. Dissenting moral theology, having no scientific basis, can only serve as a public relations device for some implicit theory, desire, or power. That is the long and the short of it.
Science can only compare one theory to another, and so faithful classic Catholic moral theology is right to think of itself as scientific by comparison to the abandonment of Reality that is dissent. Yet every true science must be prepared to abandon something very important to it, in service to the Reality it studies: its assumptions, even its most cherished ones. Assuming that the basis of moral agency is a principle or concept puts the Lordship of Jesus Christ in issue, which is a profound mistake. Nonetheless, faithful Catholic moral theologians have been able to deploy this assumption in ways that have helped all of us remain more faithful to the professions of the one, true bridal Church of Jesus the Lord. This is the way all true science works: theories that are better than existing rivals, however flawed they eventually prove to be, have much more beneficial effects than the existing alternatives.
Nonetheless, it is a profound mistake, and profoundly anti-scientific, to postulate that any assumption or theory in science, however venerable, is coterminous with the Reality it studies. If a faithful alternative exists, then the assumption that the basis of moral acts is a principle or concept must be compared experimentally to that alternative. If the comparison clearly favors the alternative, then theology must abandon the assumption that the basis of morality is a principle or concept. Otherwise, theology becomes implicitly anti-scientific, it becomes merely a public relations device itself, if for "the good guys."
Theology, as the summit of the sciences, is therefore the most exacting science, and the most difficult to keep scientific. Dissent is inevitably sloppy as well as wayward. It is easy to do dissent; extremely difficult to do the science of theology. It is so difficult to do theology as science, that nearly everybody does theology as engineering, and some simply as cooking. It's all we can normally manage. So, even if by accident I have identified a scientific problem in theology that we can agree needs work, we normally will have to wait awhile for the solution, since not only theological geniuses, who are very few and very far between, but also the whole Holy Catholic Church, will have to work it through.
Yes, to abandon a highly useful fundamental postulate must be done with great caution, backed by much more evidence than has been presented here. Nonetheless, any postulate, however useful, however venerable, that puts the Lordship of Jesus the Christ in issue is inherently mistaken, and must ceaselessly be compared to faithful, practical alternatives. The postulate, of course, must not be abandoned until a faithful, practical alternative is shown to be superior to it, but then, it should be abandoned decisively, for we already know that something is inherently wrong with it; which is to say, we already know that it only weakly serves the Reality under study. That is how all true sciences -- as distinct from public relations devices -- proceed.
Public relations is a human good, unless we posit the monstrosity that any effort to be attractive and approachable is inherently bad; but it does not substitute for the science of theology. Moreover, to ask a question of the Lord is to follow Him wherever He may lead. There may be surprises, not all of them congenial to the theologian's previous work and assumptions. After subjecting his work to the most vigorous scrutiny and experiment available, he then submits it to the magisterium, to do with as it will. This act, far from being any kind of subjection, is theology's sole and perfect sustenance. Apart from the sacramental protection of the magisterium, all of theology is hopeless, pathetic merely; but with it, theology can be the most potent and daring, and thus the most difficult and exacting, of all the sciences.
To restate: I contend here that the foundation of moral agency is not any principle or concept (or 'idea', 'perfection', etc.), but rather an Event, the New Covenant, the truly crucified and truly risen Lord, the Bridegroom who by his One Sacrifice, made re-present in the Eucharist - "This is my body." "This is my blood."- is eternally united with his Bride, the Catholic Church, who as his Bride becomes the Body of the Head, "one flesh" with her Lord.
Further, because the world was created [CCC 290]; and created purely out of God's love and goodness [CCC 293]; and "is not the product of any necessity whatever" [CCC 295]; the entire created order, though fallen, is inherently free in the blood of the Lamb, who is present "in the beginning," both Alpha and Omega. Thus the possibility of man's free act of freely investigating the freely created order arises within that Covenant whose first sign is Creation itself. [cf. CCC 288]
Because the entire created order, and man's investigation of it, is universally and inherently free in the New Covenant, then under the condition that man freely seeks the reality of that Covenant within which he is created, he may wonder at the created world, to see what it may tell him regarding that reality, the Eucharistic Event, within which he is created. This is the foundation for the introduction of concepts from current natural science for the investigation of moral agency within 'complex' socio-cultural ecologies.
Moreover, the universal frame of reference for Catholic communication with men who do not know Jesus, or who do not receive Him in the Eucharist, or who are otherwise not in full communion with his Catholic Church, and even with men who reject Jesus and his Catholic Church, is not any time-less principle or concept, nor an ungraced 'pure nature', nor any ungraced or 'value-free' context whatever, but rather the absolute universality of creation and redemption in the New Covenant, for the Catholic Church professes that Jesus is Lord, and thus she professes that if a man sincerely seeks the basis for moral agency, for the meaningfulness of existence, all of his searching will begin and end in the New Covenant within which he is created and redeemed. Christ died for all men, "through him all things were made," and he the Bridegroom has taken as his one and only Bride his Catholic Church, to be "one flesh" with him. This, and no other, is the 'natural law', for it is the freedom and gift of the New Covenant, which extends universally and forever.
Similarly, the Church's profession that "The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason," [CCC 286, quoting Vatican I] must not be read as the supposition that there exists a 'value-free' or 'objective' realm where human reason lives - a realm in which therefore Jesus may (possibly) not be the Lord.
Very important to this discussion is the fact that CCC 286 does not tell us what "human reason" is, but rather it tells us that the existence of God the Creator can be known by its light. As I argued earlier, the definition of 'human reason' employed both by classic moral theology and, for want of a better word, by common sense, are merely provisional wisdom, not the professions of the Catholic Church. Within moral theology, such provisional wisdom exists solely to help us understand what the magisterium professes and hands on, and with appropriate caution, we may always at least ask whether a particular aspect of moral theology's provisional wisdom has lost some or all of its ability to help us comprehend and live out what the Catholic Church professes and teaches. Indeed, the nature of rationality will turn out to be one of the principal topics of this investigation of moral agency in modern life. Its definition here will turn out to be diametrically opposed to ones proposed by current and traditional moral theology, and yet at the same time, the new definition will also be significantly more closely tied to Catholic worship and profession than current ones. Stay tuned.
The fundamental scientific concept of evolution is taken seriously herein. However, just like any other principle or concept, 'evolution' can no more be the basis of moral agency than 'gravity.' (In passing, it is worth noting that we, who reject a priori the act of founding moral agency on any principle or concept whatever, because inconsistent with the Lordship of Jesus, can put the scientific theory of evolution in its place easily and unperturbed, while classic moral theology must first prove that 'evolution' is not the 'correct' principle or concept on which to found moral agency).
Thus, we may easily observe that the argument from 'Evolution' can have no Catholic interest, because its very first move must be the proclamation that Jesus is not the Lord, but rather, that Jesus himself is subject to some principle or concept more substantial, more eternal, more real, than he. At the same time, we may judge it better to retain the actual scientific theory of (as distinct from the argument from) evolution within Catholic evangelization, if at all possible.
The Catholic begins by noting that the living magisterium of the Catholic Church places no immediate obstacle in the way. Indeed, present-day Catholics who wish to argue that the theory of evolution is contrary to the Church's worship and is rejected by the magisterium must begin by extensive interpretation, as it were, of several statements on the subject both by John Paul II and by several prominent bishops. Indeed, the entire difficulty for these Catholics may be grounded in a misunderstanding: the failure to distinguish the argument from 'Evolution' from the scientific theory of evolution.
The Catechism is untroubled by the scientific theory of evolution, for the Holy Father and the bishops in communion with him clearly understand the essential humility of the natural sciences, which can never ask why, but only what. The abuse of this essential humility, by prominent scientists and many others (including some theologians), who with intentions perhaps both well-meaning and otherwise try to make the natural sciences into what they are not, and thus try to make the scientific theory of evolution into the argument from 'Evolution,' does not cause science itself to evaporate. CCC 283-284 is worth quoting in full:
The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers. With Solomon they can say: "It is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements... for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me." [Wis 7:17-22]That is, the Catechism clearly finds all properly scientific study of origins not only untroubling to but actively supportive of the worship of the Church, due to the essential humility of the natural sciences, which can not in any way give an adequate ground for meaning of any kind, let alone a ground for moral agency.
The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin: is the universe governed by chance, blind fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good Being called "God"? And if the world does come from God's wisdom and goodness, why is there evil? Where does it come from? Who is responsible for it? Is there any liberation from it?
Thus, simply using the preceding two paragraphs from the Catechism, the Catholic could ask any scientist attempting to make the argument from 'Evolution': if the universe is governed by chance, blind fate, or anonymous necessity, then you are, too, so why do you get up in the morning to do science? Why try to be honest with your data? Careful with your conclusions? Respectful of reality's seemingly endless ability to surprise you? Or in other words and most generally, what is the scientific basis for your evident belief and practice that it matters what you do?
One of the most important distinctions in this argument must now be made. The Catholic Church professes that the physical universe as it exists within time is both good in itself and yet nonetheless fallen. It exhibits neither 'total corruption' (as in classic Lutheranism and in gnosticism), nor inherent meaninglessness, yet at the same time, it "groans" (Rom 8:22) to its core. While professing that the Creation is indeed good and very good, the Catholic can not prescind from the central doctrine of the Fall, and study nature 'as if' it were not fallen. Nor can the Catholic study fallen nature apart from the Medicine of Immortality, the Eucharistic worship of the Catholic Church. For Jesus is Lord -- the Risen and Crucified, the real Bridegroom of his real Bride, she who continuously "[does] This in memory of Me," and offers her sacrifice of Praise in our real time, which He Really changes into His very Body and Blood to be a Perfect Offering to the Father and our Real Food and Drink.
And thus the distinction. The study of nature apart from the Eucharistic worship of the Catholic Church is fundamentally wayward, for Jesus is Lord. More precisely, the study of fallen Nature is indeed possible; what will ever be pointless is to study that fallenness as normative, 'as if' both fallenness, and its sole remedy, the sacraments, preeminently the Eucharist, celebrated in their fullness solely within the Catholic Church, were not real, for that way lies
Science that (within evolutionary theory) finds Sequence without Cause, or that (within cosmological theory) finds Cause subsuming Sequence, therefore should be applauded, not feared. It is not a problem for the Catholic Church if modern scientists conclude that free will and human moral agency are impossible within fallenness per se.
If anything, it is the Catholic failure to make man stop and squirm in complete agony, just at the point of this discovery, which is one of the more significant failures of the evangelization of the modern world. The Catholic acquiescence in the 'sophisticated' man's efforts to feel better than his honest investigations tell him he should feel, is not 'pastoral,' for it does not put the sophisticated man at risk of either judgment or salvation. It allows him to coast.
The last person in the world who needs his pain eased is the modern, powerful, sophisticated man; rather, such a man needs his pain to increase, he needs to be sternly warned to continue to batter his head with all the brutal honesty he can muster against the real truth, until all his comfortable evasions run their course, and he, though still tough-minded, honest, and unbowed, becomes just desperate enough to try to run toward his true Mother, and, united with her very Body, allows himself to try - just once - to love the true Savior of the world.
To say it again: it is not a problem for the Catholic Church if modern scientists conclude that free will and human moral agency are impossible within fallenness per se. All the problems come afterward, when (whether by an active rejection of the worship of the Catholic Church or by an insufficient apprehension of it)
In reality, of course, since we are human, most of us pursue both courses simultaneously. At times we are 'courageous' devils, laughing at the essential meaninglessness of our activity, accumulating power and seeking control just 'because'; but when being an idiot - a cute little sheep just wanting a little innocent play - seems a more convenient strategy, then without a word of apology, we are idiots instead.
The satisfactions enjoyed by idiots and devils are not as nothing, except by comparison to the Medicine of Immortality. This longing for God, St. Thomas's trahi a Deo, St. Augustine's intuitive 'restlessness,' is the ceaseless pursuit of the Hound of Heaven even toward the most sinful of fallen men until the very moment of their deaths.
In sum, given that
Within-species evolution: traits at least partly heritable will become more (or less) preponderant within the species, if they have either survival consequences (natural selection) or reproductive consequences (sexual selection).
Many human cognitive and social capacities appear to be inherited and to have survival and reproductive consequences. Therefore, they also will evolve, and probably have evolved, in response to natural and/or sexual selection. Moreover, these capacities - not a unitary 'brain' - have evolved; the capacities appear to have evolved relatively independently of each other. Finally, evolutionary psychologist David C. Geary has made a highly useful distinction between "biologically primary" and "biologically secondary" social and cognitive skills. [Geary, D. C. (1995) Reflections of evolution and culture in children's cognition: Implications for mathematical development and instruction. American Psychologist 50: 24-37.]
Features of biologically primary social and cognitive skills: they are evolved, genetically-based capacities - therefore, they are culturally robust. Biologically primary social and cognitive skills develop 'naturally' - we develop and express them in the course of normal human interaction with little or no conscious attention on our part. Moreover, developing them is inherently enjoyable and/or compelling - they are culturally robust because the emotional goodies attached to developing them ("do that again") evolved right along with them.
A biologically primary skill is not necessarily a 'simple' skill. The ability to visually identify the edges of objects is one biologically primary human skill, but so is human language. Indeed, there is such strong evidence for human language as 'biologically primary' in Professor Geary's sense, that a scientific consensus around this point has developed among psycholinguists.
Features of biologically secondary social and cognitive skills: these never negate or supersede biologically primary skills. To the contrary, biologically secondary social and cognitive skills do not exist except as they stand on the shoulders of biologically primary skills. They 'co-opt' biologically primary skills - using those for a purpose in addition to the evolved purposes. For example (and this is not a made-up example), the biologically primary evolved skills of visual scanning and language are 'co-opted' for the biologically secondary skill of reading. This co-optation requires extensive work; that is, effortful attention and deliberate practice.
The necessity for deliberate attention and inherently unpleasant practice for their development are hallmarks of biologically secondary skills. It is often compelling and/or fun to develop a biologically primary social and cognitive skill, and it does not take much effortful attention. Neither of these things is true for biologically secondary skills. Little children begin to babble at us, and we talk back at them, it is all rather pleasant, not really hard, and very 'natural'; and so, with very little if any effortful attention on anyone's part, the biologically primary (if wondrously complex) skill of language gradually develops in essentially every human being.
To the contrary, the biologically secondary skill of reading rarely just 'emerges' in this feckless way. For most people, it takes a great deal of effortful attention and practice to learn to read, and, even though language does spontaneously appear in essentially every human being in every culture, reading clearly does not. Biologically secondary skills are not robust (they do not appear in all cultures and do not 'naturally' emerge in essentially all individuals), and are thus relatively fragile.
Important digression. Strong optical illusions show that even biologically primary human capacities can fail to interpret certain contexts correctly. Significantly, the very robustness or universality of biologically primary skills means that, in cases such as strong optical illusions, essentially everyone will fail to interpret the context correctly.
Also significantly, we can 'talk ourselves out of' a strong optical illusion (e.g., by measuring the two lines in the optical illusion to verify that they are in fact the same length) but will nonetheless still forever 'see' the situation incorrectly, even after we do that. Finally, before we can begin to correct our misjudgment, we first have to notice that the intuitively obvious - what we can plainly see - is in fact an illusion, a misjudgment.
Relevant elaboration. Human groupings larger than a small village are, evolutionarily, a recent development. A small village (lacking, e.g., a police force) appears to be the largest human social unit that can be sustained purely on the basis of one-to-one reciprocal relationships. Put differently, one biologically primary constraint on human social complexity appears to be what can be sustained on the basis of one-to-one reciprocal relationships.
Human societies up to the level of a small village are probably like language: making human social units up to that size is a wondrous and incredible feat, but it nonetheless probably relies on heritable, evolved - biologically primary - social and cognitive skills that all of us naturally have. All human beings have made social units up to that size for a long, long time.
But for a long, long time, we didn't make any stable social unit larger than that. That very probably means that making human societies larger than a small village probably requires us to do things and to think things that are not entirely 'natural' to us. Making human societies larger than a small village is probably not like language; it is probably instead like reading: a skill that we can master, but usually only after a great deal of effortful attention and practice.
What exactly was the bottleneck that kept human social groups to this size for such a long time? One distinct possibility is that a small village seems to be the largest human unit that can be sustained purely by face to face interaction, purely by one to one reciprocal relationships.
This argument, and additional evidence, leads to the conclusion that the biologically primary human capacity to think about 'moral agency,' and related concepts such as 'fairness' and 'sharing,' evolved at least in part with reference to one-to-one reciprocal relationships and the social contexts (families, small villages) that can be sustained purely on that basis.
That is, the social context within which our brains thought about what was fair, what was just, what it means to share, was for a very long time the context of face to face interaction, of one to one reciprocal relationships - the context of families and small villages. Getting good at thinking about moral agency within those particular social contexts undoubtedly had extremely important survival and reproductive consequences. Therefore, it is very likely that our brains have evolved in ways that make us very, very good at thinking about moral agency within the context of families and small villages.
But if the biologically primary context for our thinking about moral agency is face to face interaction, one to one reciprocal relationships, what happened to our thinking about moral agency, about what was just, what was fair, what it means to share, when we (laboriously) began to create human social units larger than a small village, which can not be sustained purely by face to face interaction, purely by one to one reciprocal relationships? That is the question that will be receiving a great deal of attention shortly.
Science fiction. 'Complex' socio-cultural ecologies are defined here loosely as human social organizations dense enough with human interaction to manifest significant signaling and feedback mechanisms, but large enough that most persons in them have never met and probably never will.
The existence of 'complex' socio-cultural ecologies, which by definition can not operate simply on the basis of one-to-one reciprocal relationships, would therefore predictably create problems for human conceptions of moral agency, if the fundamental evolved basis by which human beings think about moral agency is - even partly - in terms of one-to-one reciprocal relationships.
The very concept of moral agency within complex socio-cultural ecologies would tend to be difficult to formulate. For example, we might (as we do) demonstrate a pronounced tendency to 'deny the given': complex socio-cultural ecologies are 'nonetheless' social contexts in which one-to-one reciprocal relationships (and therefore, moral agency) can operate. An almost paradigmatic example now occasionally deployed is the term 'global village,' which explicitly asks us to believe that the ultimate result of further prolific increases in the complexity of what was an already complex socio-cultural ecology has not been something almost beyond analysis, but rather, the familiar social organization and operation of a country village.
For further corroboration, Catholics need look no further than St. Thomas Aquinas, who, as Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J., reminded us, like Aristotle "viewed with foreboding, for instance, the fate of a city 'that needs for its maintenance a great number of commercial dealings.'" [Murray JC. We Hold These Truths. Image Books, 1964. p. 120.]
Fr. Murray brings up, and explains, St. Thomas's reservations, in the context of Fr. Murray's own argument on the public conversation. St. Thomas was articulating a conservative impulse, the impulse of a man of his time; commercial dealings with a stranger may subject the city to the trader's 'strange ideas.' Some potentially discordant ideas, within a broadly-shared communicative context, are stimulating; but with the introduction of too many discordant ideas, the public conversation falls apart. To be fair, it is easy to provide a vivid example to a modern reader, demonstrating that both Aquinas and Aristotle are certainly correct on the point, as far as it goes. For example, if enough people in a city don't agree with the 'idea' that putting out your garbage in a closed can every week is a good thing, but rather, they regularly throw their garbage into the street, that can rather rapidly create huge problems for any city. In fact, modern cities can only operate within a nearly universal consensus about a great many things, large and small.
On the other hand, any modern city, even to sustain itself and the welfare of its citizens, let alone to thrive, must do the opposite of what St. Thomas recommended: it must actively encourage not merely a 'great number' of commercial dealings, but an increasing number of them. The economy of a modern city can not be the economy of the village, and attempts to force a modern city to take up the economics of village life will rather swiftly lead to its demise. Yet if we take St. Thomas at his word, only the economic life of the village is conducive to a fully public life, a fully moral agency. We can find the identical 'foreboding', this quandary, vividly articulated in the works of both Christopher Dawson and C.S. Lewis.
Yet an unease about the city is at least as ancient as the bucolics of ancient Roman poets. Perhaps it is not altogether unseemly to use insights from more modern authors, such as Dawson and Lewis, and modern scholarship, to articulate a possible additional level of the "foreboding" about commercial dealings that speaks even more directly to the issue addressed here: our brain's inability to think 'naturally' regarding a moral context that is not also the social context of the family or the small village. Although reading modern ideas into either Aquinas or Aristotle would be disreputable, it is an honorable practice to deploy modern scholarship to tease out some assumptions and concepts that would have formed part of the background of the everyday life of Aristotle certainly, and even perhaps of Aquinas. Indeed, to do so may be salutary, for modern ideas of personhood were certainly not those of the average Greek of Aristotle's day, nor of the average inhabitant of a medieval city. Although Aristotle and Aquinas undoubtedly abstracted from that background, that was the background they abstracted from -- not ours.
Thus from a certain point of view, it would not be too much to call all commercial dealings 'modern'; that is, quasi-amoral, because nearly impersonal. They are social acts 'outside' of one's family and one's village, because the trader then leaves. He is subject to the one-to-one reciprocity of the family or the village not as a person, not by every breath he takes, by every act he makes, but only by his otherwise detached act of trade.
Thus by nature, as it were, in all 'commercial dealings,' acts are perforce detached from persons (understood as family members or villagers persistently, immutably, within a social context of one-to-one reciprocity), and thus, the very concept of personhood (that is, existence and identity not as an 'example' of something more abstract but as a man's specific particular relations and duties in his family and village) is at least prescinded from, or even disappears. Too many social contacts, moral in themselves but at root quasi-amoral - detached from the village in its particularity - equals the death of that real village as the locus of moral agency, equals the death of that village, which instead becomes a marketplace merely, in which not persons, but acts only, exist. Therefore: view with foreboding the fate of cities with 'a great number' of commercial dealings.
All parallels to similar arguments over the last 800 years are intentional. Any reader will be aware of at least some arguments similar to the argument above, advanced by thinkers both historical and contemporary; the phenomenon can be accounted for (and with more detail later in this argument) by considering that, in evolutionary terms, our brains - and families and small villages - are ancient, but cities are something new.
If the Catholic desires a more recent example, here is one culled from the July 2003 edition of the American edition of the monthly prayer book, Magnificat. The following was the spiritual reading for July 13, 2003, and is from The Jerusalem Community Rule of Life [The Jerusalem Community. Rule of Life. tr. Kathleen England. Paulist Press, 1985.]:
The city is the place of human pride, noise, idolatry, sin, massacre, and distress. It provokes the death of the prophets, the condemnation of the Son of God, the scandal of the cross planted near its ramparts under the eyes of the populace and, finally, ruin and shame.
You will have to wage a twofold fight in the heart of the city: for God and against evil. There you will receive a double grace: a meeting with God and purification from your own sins. In the city you will have to struggle and contemplate. What the early monks set out to seek yesterday in the desert, you will find today in the city.
All monastic life is a fight and urban monasticism calls for fighters. Jesus came to bring not peace but the sword.
Oppose eroticism, prestige, and money, with the firm contrast of a life of poverty, humility, and purity. Fight noise with your silence; weariness with your peace; endless comings and goings with your repose in God. No cloister will protect your prayer; the countryside will not bring you serenity; the walls of your enclosure will not preserve your virtue. Followers of Christ, the Beatitudes summon you to a life of real struggle in the heart of the city.
In brief: City bad. Christian mission: live within Evil City, fight to make it as much like a family or a village as possible. All cities need to be built on the moral agency and the rationality of the family and the small village, of that there can be no doubt. But, as can be seen, it has also been a persistent tendency, and a Catholic tendency, to regard the city, with its incessant "noise," "weariness," and "endless comings and goings" so different from a family or a small village, as per se a moral cesspool.
The continued existence of arguments and philosophies and spiritual sentiments similar to these, even within the modern academy, may not attest to their truth. The fact that the modern academy quite happily locates itself within a world in which 'commercial dealings' beyond the imagination of the devil himself in the thirteenth century power its every move, and yet the same academy continues to allow distinguished academics, from both the ideological left and the right, to make arguments that vary only marginally from forebodings both ancient and medieval about the city and its 'endless comings and goings', lends support to the contention that there is an evolved propensity for mankind to view moral agency as 'really' occurring within a village, within the 'real' context of one-to-one reciprocal relationships. However absurd the idea becomes, we remain drawn to it (and continue to employ academics to expound upon it).
Digression and expansion. The very existence of modern science reminds us that our grasp may be insufficient if we insist on understanding absolutely everything by means of metaphorical extensions of 'intuitively obvious' (biologically primary) conceptions. Quantum physics - counterintuitive in the extreme - is only one reminder that even very sophisticated elaborations of 'common sense' can take us only so far.
This is the place to at least attempt to get one implication of modern cognitive psychology clear: universal optical illusions exist. That is, there are some things that all men always see incorrectly. Moreover, extensive research has shown that the nature of the human perceptual system is the reason for the illusion. In other words, it is now clear that the natural human perceptual system is 'buggy' - organized or 'wired' in such a way that it automatically, universally, and persistently misinterprets the actual reality in certain perceptual situations. No matter how long we look, or how intently, no matter how we try to squint to change what we plainly see, we can not change what we see. The optical illusion persists.
Although perceptual psychologists have gotten used to this idea, it is still rather remarkable, because it means that the actual observed reality of the human visual perceptual system does not support the idea that it was built for seeing! Well, obviously it is built for seeing in some sense, but plainly, it was not built to 'see' in any abstract or ideal sense, and that is a very important distinction.
Probably throughout history, most people (and most philosophers until recently) have just assumed that our visual systems are in fact built to 'see' in an ideal or abstract sense. The problem is that reality never read any of those books where all the philosophers said that. What universal optical illusions show is that the human visual perceptual system is built, not to ideal specs by a putative master designer, but to handle certain kinds of visual stimuli extremely well, others not so well, still others not at all, and finally, it was built 'buggy' - it actively mishandles certain kinds of visual stimuli. Certain kinds of visual situations (what we call optical illusions) make our 'natural' visual system, in perfect working order, flat out give the wrong answer.
So, reality seems to be telling us that the human visual system is probably not an ideal or abstractly perfect "machine for seeing." It looks a lot more like a cobbled-together mass of only loosely-associated visual Good Tricks that we've acquired and kept over a long period of time. Some of these Tricks are remarkable, some only so-so, we don't have any Trick at all for certain kinds of visual stimuli, and the Tricks are just that, not ideal machines for seeing, so, as remarkable as some of them are, they can, when presented with what we call optical illusions, lie to us in a highly systematic, a totally universal, way.
Nobody is denying that the preceding account does not jibe very well with our common sense idea of our visual perceptual system. The problem, as I said, is that reality does not seem to have read any of the books where we told our visual perceptual system what it is supposed to be like.
Evolutionary theory does a much better job of accounting for the rag-tag, cobbled together, buggy nature of the human visual perceptual system than any previous accounts, and it can explain its remarkable features, too: they helped us survive, and/or they helped us find mates.
The next step is seeing the eye as an extension of the brain. That is, it's become clear that the eye itself does not do all the 'seeing.' But this too is remarkable, for it ties perception to the brain. More precisely, it makes 'perception' a kind of artifact of processing by the visual perceptual system, eye and brain together.
We could do much the same thing, demonstrate much the same results and make much the same arguments, using other human perceptual systems: the auditory system, etc. Reality has repeatedly been informing us that it hasn't read any of the books where we told our combined sensory-brain system that it really ought to be an ideal or abstract machine for 'perceiving.' All this is old hat to cognitive psychologists and to some modern philosophers, but it is evidently news to more than a few others, even today.
Also old hat to cognitive psychologists, and to a small number of contemporary philosophers, is the idea that our brain, just like our perceptual system, is not an ideal machine for 'thinking.' This is the point at which many people balk. Surely, reality has read all the books where we told our brain that it is a unified, ideal machine for 'thinking'!
Sorry: reality keeps telling us that it hasn't read any of those books. Reality keeps telling us that our brain is both exquisite, and a little rag-tag - nothing like an ideal machine for 'thinking.' Nobody is denying that this does not jibe very well with our common sense idea of our brain, and of what it means to 'think.' However, once you allow reality to tell you about optical illusions and what they appear to tell us about the human visual perceptual system, you have entered some very precarious waters, if you want to continue to write books that tell our brains that they are ideal machines for 'thinking.'
After all, the brain is an active part of our visual perceptual system. Optical illusions demonstrate that the visual perceptual system is far from an ideal machine for 'perceiving,' and instead seemingly is a collection more than a true unity, with exquisite, so-so, non-existent, and even buggy 'features,' best accounted for in terms of evolutionary theory. If the brain, part of that system, is that way regarding perception, who's to say it is not the same way in all else? It's old hat for cognitive psychologists to see the entire human nervous system in essentially the same way as the perceptual system, and that kind of perspective, the fundamental provisional theory of cognitive psychology, continues to work pretty well.
Researchers may even have identified a few cognitive 'optical illusions,' situations in which most people 'think' through a problem, and arrive, with a good degree of conviction, at a particular kind of wrong answer.
But let's be honest. In fact, all of us are quite familiar with the somewhat rickety and even precarious nature of our cognitive processes. Is it really that hard to imagine that our brains are not ideal machines for 'thinking'? That there is a distinctly rag-tag, good-here, not-so-good-there quality to our cognitive processes? That reality really does not seem to have read our previous books on the subject of how our brains work and what they actually do?
Again, the Catholic need not be troubled by any of this, for whatever our brains are like, the problem of human moral agency is not in the least solved, is in fact utterly impossible, if Jesus is not the Lord; and if he is, then he had our brain, whatever it is like.
Here's what this comes down to. If, despite all evidence, our brains are really ideal machines for 'thinking,' then there is no reason to be nervous if we've spent roughly a million years thinking about moral issues in 'village-sized' or 'family-sized' chunks, in terms of one-to-one reciprocal relationships, and then in the last several thousand years, we started to build and live in complex socio-cultural ecologies - cities, etc. - which are inherently not describable strictly in terms of one-to-one reciprocal relationships.
However, if what we use for thinking is not really a generic, multi-purpose machine for 'thinking,' but is instead a set of Good Tricks that evolved over centuries to react extremely well, not 'generically' but within particular, definite contexts, then maybe we should be nervous. Maybe, whatever the true context, our brains are built to look at moral contexts in terms of a family, or at the most, a small village, which was probably the largest natural human social unit for a very, very long time.
If that is true, our brains are going to be trying to interpret every social context as that of a family, or at most a small village, and to see all moral interactions in terms of the one to one reciprocity of the family or the small village. Our brain will see everything as 'really' a family or at most a village, and we will react and think morally as if the social context were 'really' a family or at most a village, in which steady, continuous one to one reciprocity applies. Just as visual optical illusions affect everybody, however 'modern' or educated they are, everybody, however modern or learned, will see moral contexts in 'family-sized' or 'village-sized' chunks; that is, in terms of moral concepts that make sense in terms of one to one reciprocal relationships.
Moral 'optical illusions' - putting the question. So, how much does current moral theology depend on an implied context of one-to-one reciprocal relationships? Within that context, complex socio-cultural ecologies must either appear as amoral, unable to sustain human moral agency at all, or as 'really' villages. Moral theology's ability even to think about modern life becomes an open question.
The challenge to moral theology is thus both comprehensive and subtle. Not only would any error involve the very framework within which thinking about moral agency takes place, but also, such an error would have been made not as the result of a defect within moral theology per se but as a consequence of an evolved human cognitive tendency; that is, like an optical illusion, the error would be universal - literally, an error everyone makes, an error made by the literal common sense.
To make my point, I need not establish beyond possibility of refutation the fact of the existence of 'moral optical illusions,' even though I have plausibly suggested that our natural moral capacity may be relatively 'blind' to moral contexts that it can not readily relate to a family or a small village. All I need show is the fact that our natural visual system, in perfect working order, can fail us universally and systematically, because in that way the possibility that our natural moral impulses, in perfect working order, can fail us as universally and systematically is forever a concern. Indeed, one could argue with some plausibility that, even aside from any other evidence, purely on the basis of provable evidence from our other natural capacities, the existence of at least some 'moral optical illusions' is probable, not just theoretically possible.
Yet even the possibility that our 'natural' moral capacity, in perfect working order, can fail us quite predictably and universally, such that the error would systematically, 'naturally' be made by the learned and the unlearned alike, would seem to place a great deal of pressure on classic moral theology. A Catholic moral theology that would find any of its ground in an ungraced Nature (more precisely, in fallen nature, treated as normative), would be at grave risk here. When, e.g., the real scientific possibility of 'natural' moral optical illusions is raised, there are only two general alternatives available to such moral theologies.
One: treat each new scientific speculation, theory, and account purely in terms of its convenience to the firm teachings of the Church. Thus, gravity is OK, but evolution is perhaps not, or moral optical illusions are not.
Two: treat each new "scientific" speculation or finding as the occasion for a continuous and systematic questioning of the ground of all Catholic moral teaching - the project of 'dissenting' Catholic moral theology.
This conundrum has no resolution that is not either blatantly anti-scientific, or blatantly heterodox. The conundrum itself is the problem. A Nature literally ungraced ("value-free") is not there to study. Fallen nature is graced, although, because of the Fall, it is graced now solely "in obscurity," in sign, in the Eucharist.
That is, the conundrum is properly not solved, but rather must be refused - and the only thing that really refuses it is the act of taking strict Catholic sacramental realism seriously from beginning to end. Jesus - born of the Virgin, crucified, risen, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, "one and the same," by his One Sacrifice on Calvary really present to his Bridal Church in the Eucharist, the New Adam incarnate in fallen time in and through the body of the New Eve, begotten, not made, Alpha and Omega, there "in the beginning," through whom "all things were made," and he who will come on the Last Day, "one and the same" - is Lord. Only here is the conundrum refused, and thus the 'problem' itself is false, literally unreal.
Catholic moral theology, both faithful and 'dissenting', now operates as if there exists a (variously defined) 'natural' sphere of human moral and rational activity that exists prior to, and formally or 'for practical purposes' apart from, the New Covenant - apart from the sacraments. For example, at the prompting and request of numerous learned Catholic academics of the day, the famous (or notorious, depending on one's viewpoint) "24 Theses" were spelled out in Pope Pius X's 1914 decree "Postquam sanctissimus" and declared to "clearly contain the principles and more important thoughts of the holy Doctor" [that is, St. Thomas]. Yet not even once in the "24 Theses" do the words "sacrament," "New Covenant," or even the word "Jesus" (or anything related to him, such as Lord, Savior, etc.) appear. Nor, to state the obvious, was this found to be troubling, either by those scholars, or by the curial office that examined the 24 Theses, or by the Holy Father himself.
Nonetheless, the assumption that human life can proceed without utter dependence on the sacraments, on the works in time of the Lord and his Bridal Church, "one flesh" with him in the One Sacrifice, can have no Catholic interest, however many Catholic theologians have tried to incorporate it into however many Catholic moral theologies of however venerable a provenance. (And before anyone gets hysterical, the Holy Father merely confirmed the opinion of his Sacred Congregation, that these theses encapsulated the thought of St. Thomas; he did not pronounce on either faith or morals, infallibly or otherwise).
Historically we are in a situation quite comparable to the one at the time of the "New Physics" of Galileo and Newton. Or rather, we are experiencing a more profound continuation of that situation, for now the natural sciences aim to study, not the motion of the planets, but the activity of perception and thinking - mind - itself. At the cutting edge of such science, all is confusion. Perhaps only ten percent of cutting edge science in any discipline in good order will turn out to be fruitful. The problem is, nobody knows which ten percent that is.
Nonetheless, while current research and theory must be regarded as vastly provisional at best, over time it has become possible to see that reality never read a large proportion of the books we wrote where we told our minds what they were like. This creates deep problems for the provisional wisdom incorporated into Catholic moral theology. That provisional wisdom relies on ideas about the nature of perception, thinking, and mind that can not really be fixed, but simply have to be abandoned.
To be blunt, it really doesn't matter how smart the Catholic scholars are who try to 'save the appearances' of Aristotelian 'intellection', or of any other venerable ideas on the matter. The scholars doing and defending Aristotelian physics were smart, too. The Ptolemaic epicycles, and the Aristotelian ideas of motion underlying them (which, it should be remembered, buttressed our 'common sense' notions about the motion of the sun and planets) had to be completely abandoned, rejected in principle, from before the outset, in order to come to a better understanding of the motion of the sun and planets. So also here, regarding the activity of our mind and brain, the Aristotelian notions of 'intellection' and mind (which again can be viewed as more sophisticated elaborations of our 'common sense' on the matter) must largely be abandoned, for reality - not 'godless modern science' - is calling us to do so.
If the only solutions to the severe scientific pressure placed on the former provisional wisdom are to defend it to the death, as if that wisdom were equivalent to the Reality it studies, or alternatively to employ that severe scientific pressure, in the manner of 'dissenting' Catholic moral theologians, to reject, subvert, and manipulate Reality (which is to say, the professions of the living magisterium of the Catholic Church), then Catholic moral theology is in deep, deep trouble. These 'solutions' leave Catholic moral theology either blatantly anti-scientific - locked into the equivalent of the Ptolemaic epicycles because it gives the 'right answer' - or blatantly heterodox.
However, as pointed out here, there is another alternative. First, one can see this severe pressure as a pressure not on Catholic moral theology per se, and certainly not on the living magisterium, but on Catholic moral theology's provisional wisdom. Second and even more to the point, one can see this pressure as a pressure not just on the immediate topic but also on a deep provisional wisdom within Catholic theology: the idea that an ungraced Nature (of some kind), a nature either really or 'for practical purposes' unfallen and unredeemed and apart from the New Covenant and the sacraments, can serve as a reliable ground for Catholic moral theology.
If one posits an ungraced Nature, the ongoing research project of Catholic moral theology becomes finding and defining and arguing about and applying in just the right way just the right ungraced Nature as the ground of moral agency. Again, that Nature could be some 'principle' or 'concept', or it could be 'human nature' or something else - formally, the project is about which one of the numerous proposals is the right 'natural' Nature. One of the automatic problems arises when (as now) fallen Nature increasingly is seen to be uncooperative, when it seems increasingly resistant to attempts to make it equivalent to some long-standing scheme agreed upon by generations of Catholic moral theologians. Since the pressure is now applied to the scheme worked out regarding the nature of mind, thought, rationality, and hence of moral agency itself, it may seem particularly severe and threatening.
Yet this difficulty, however the present problem is managed, is built right in to the assumption that mind, reason, moral agency - Nature - is formally, methodologically independent of the works in time of Jesus the Son of God, "one flesh" with his Catholic Church. Accordingly, there will be no end of trouble, as long as Catholic theology continues to incorporate the postulate as a matter of its theological method. We can predict that ever more severe pressures will arise in the future, for that postulate, and thence that problematic, automatically creates a gap between Faith and Reason, between supernatural Grace and ungraced Nature. More precisely, it creates a gap between the sacraments and everything else.
Jesus is Lord, and the Greeks did not give the sacraments. Yet Catholic provisional wisdom about rationality and moral agency comes from the Greeks, not from the sacraments. It is obvious that the Greeks would postulate a 'natural' Nature apart from the sacraments. It is understandable that this postulate was taken up and maintained by Catholic theologians living within, and later rediscovering, Greek philosophical culture. Yet this postulate is provisional wisdom only, and in the end is a profound error, for it can have no Catholic interest. The error is still an error, still a profound error, whatever the faithfulness of the theologian, and however strongly the error supports the magisterium's moral teaching.
For in fact, neither an ungraced, "value-free" Nature, nor Grace 'as if' apart from fallen nature, can be theology's object, as neither have any reality whatever, since it is Jesus, and he alone, who is Lord - he alone is the Word of God, through whom God reveals himself completely; no one knows the Father but through him, the Head of his Body, the Bridegroom of his Bride, the Catholic Church. Not an abstract "God," but the risen Lord, the "whole Christ," is, "in the unity of the Holy Spirit," complete Revelation of the Father. A philosophical or theological method, however venerable, in which he is not formally, systematically both Lord and Bridegroom can in the end have no Catholic interest.
Even the idea that rationality and human moral agency can not exist apart from the New Covenant - apart from the sacraments; even the idea that rationality and moral agency exist only in utter dependence on the sacraments given in and through the One Sacrifice, is at present the strangest kind of thought. At present, at best it is a kind of romantic notion, the kind of thing that might be said, but that nobody is really expected to take seriously.
Yet it is this kind of thought that must begin to be given flesh, in order to commence a Catholic moral theology that can in principle (that is, as a matter of system and method, with full Catholic optimism, without any fudging, and unreservedly) think about moral agency within the modern world, within 'complex' socio-cultural ecologies.
It should be remembered that this very problem vexed, and defeated, modern thinkers as profound and faithfully Christian as Christopher Dawson and C.S. Lewis. First of all, one may well ask rhetorically, why would both be troubled by such a problem at all, if either had found the resources provided by the "24 Theses," or by any of the 'professional' moral theology of the day, adequate to the problem. Second, in the course of their own investigations, neither of them could characterize the fate of modern men, even if all went well, (as Lewis put it in a column written for The Times of London) as anything but becoming "willing slaves of the welfare state."
In marked contrast to inferior thinkers, both of their day and ours, both faced, and faced unflinchingly, the fact that we no longer live in a village. And for both, the village and the family were the locus of moral agency. Hence, both saw modern life, the very warp and woof of modern existence, as increasingly amoral at best. It is not too much to say that they too "viewed with foreboding" the fate of a city "'that needs for its maintenance a great number of commercial dealings.'"
This is by no means to gainsay the profound insight of Lewis, and particularly of Dawson. Their vivid, dirt-under-the-fingernails sense of the biologically primary substrate of human social and cognitive existence, and in particular their refusal to subordinate or subsume the biologically primary in order to make it wait upon any (even any 'Christian') 'principle' or 'concept' or 'destiny', stands as a permanent contribution. They insisted that everything, very much including 'principles', 'concepts', and 'destinies', stands on the shoulders of the biologically primary, and that it can not be otherwise.
Further, they never ceased to warn that to ignore this priority of the biologically primary - the priority of the actual fact of our actual human body - is sheer folly, guaranteed to lead to disaster at best, or disaster within a world ever more gnostic, totalitarian, and anti-religious at worst. This is a warning of such salience that it may need to be repeated until Gabriel blows his trumpet.
Of course, it was their profound awareness of the priority of the biologically primary that led them to face so unflinchingly the fact that we no longer live in a village. For example, their profound disquiet about what moral meaning could be attached to the word "education" within human life so palpably and insistently not life in a village, is only one dimension of the problem that in the end defeated both of them, the problem of moral agency within 'complex' socio-cultural ecologies.
The argument herein is summarized as follows. The biologically primary human grasp of moral agency may at least in part be in terms of one-to-one reciprocal relationships. If this be true, then in part or in whole, our biologically primary moral capacity, in perfect working order, when it regards any human social context larger than a small village, may go all or partly blank, feel little or nothing. If we have no biologically secondary moral capacity, then nothing more can be said. Yet if we do, then 'complex' socio-cultural ecologies may open to us as inherently and fully moral human contexts - even though they may never, ever 'feel' like moral contexts to our biologically primary moral sense.
Preliminary conclusions. We may continue to 'see' all social situations in terms of evolved biologically primary contexts such as one-to-one reciprocal relationships, however poorly that works in practice, a condition analogous to strong optical illusions. (Though, also analogously, we may 'talk ourselves out of' illusions that we nonetheless still 'see.')
Modern men have to ask how well they are exercising moral agency in modern life, if large sections of modern life appear either as amoral, or as 'really' life in a village. Just as 'common sense' ideas of matter and motion only took physics so far, even ultra-sophisticated elaborations of an 'intuitive' (biologically primary) grasp of 'fairness,' etc. will be inadequate to this task. Thinking in and with the Church, man has to construct better tools by which covenantal, nuptial moral agency in modern life can be conceived of and lived out.
Notable is the fact that evolution-based science, far from being inherently threatening to covenantal moral agency and to Catholicism, has already here helped to clarify modern man's moral tasks in the New Covenant; for it was only by means of the work of serious evolutionary scientists that the concept of a biologically secondary morality, which stands on the shoulders of and never prescinds from our biologically primary morality, could be clarified sufficiently to be useful.
Further development. A more adequate account of moral agency requires a fresh look at rationality, and its link to moral agency. The key:
No systematic account is attempted here, but one key: both Augustine's Platonism and Aquinas's Aristotelianism must be very far prescinded from in order to make Augustine's testimony coherent. For to make rationality utterly dependent on human moral agency is to make rationality fully bodied, not 'out there' in a time-less, incorruptible realm.
Admittedly, this view of rationality is repugnant to Greek philosophy, and through it, to classic Catholic theology. However, the magisterium has not canonized a particular definition of rationality as part of the Church's unceasing profession of belief in her Lord. Moreover, a fully-bodied rationality is a threat only to Greek philosophy, not to Catholic doctrine or Catholic worship, if the possibility of rationality just is the possibility of true moral agency within the fallen world. The formulation: "if moral agency, then rationality; but not otherwise" can have no a priori objectionableness to a believing Catholic, since the moral agency of man is a central profession of Catholic faith. Making the existence of rationality depend on the existence of real, true moral agency for man could in no way make a Catholic concerned about the existence of rationality.
Put differently, the possibility of a fully-bodied rationality exists only if the sacraments are real in exactly the way that the Catholic Church professes; but this utter and complete dependence of rationality on the sacraments can scarcely be a threat to the worship of the Church.
Thus, rationality is
Moral agency then,
"Rationality" is not the name of a Thing 'out there,' but rather just is the bodily expression in fallen time of moral agency, of worship, which completes in man's body what is lacking in our Lord's afflictions. There is no time-less 'principle' or entity 'behind' the movements of bodies in time which 'gives' those movements "rationality." To repeat, rationality just is particular movements of fallen bodies in fallen time - it is absolutely nothing more. The movements of bodies do not 'express' rationality, as if rationality were a time-less thing separate from the movements, which the movements partially realize. The movements themselves are rationality, and all of it. No doubt, a fully-bodied rationality would horrify the Greeks; but it need not horrify Catholics in any way.
To be "rational" is to worship God, to complete in one's own body what is lacking in our Lord's afflictions, and this definition clarifies that the sacraments, and preeminently, the Eucharist, are absolutely crucial to all human moral agency and thus crucial even to the possibility of rationality, moral agency's physical, bodily expression.
Which is to say, the sacraments of the Catholic Church are not one possible realization of a more generic Salvific Idea. They are the actual and particular movements of particular fallen bodies in fallen time, the work of the Lord Jesus in union with his Bride the Catholic Church, by which alone man is saved. If rationality is nothing more than the particular movements of particular fallen bodies in fallen time, which complete what is lacking in his afflictions, then even the existence of rationality depends - depends utterly - on the redemptive significance of his afflictions.
That is, a fully-bodied rationality depends on the redemptive significance of the particular movements of our Lord's particular fallen body in fallen time, his every breath, his manner of speech, his touches, his decisions, his words, his silences, [cf. CCC 516] that culminate in the Cross and the Eucharist, "one and the same," and thus which continue, "one and the same," by the power of the Holy Spirit whom he sent, in fallen time in and through the particular movements, the sacraments, of his Body and Bride, the Catholic Church.
However, a fully-bodied rationality, though it depends utterly on nothing less than this, also depends on nothing more. A fully-bodied rationality depends on nothing more extraordinary than absolute and utter Catholic sacramental realism.
Put differently, human rationality is not a thing "out there," which man can somehow "access" or "exemplify," nor a static quality of man, but rather is the name of all human work. Human rationality is possible if and only if man can do meaningful work. That is, man is rational if and only if he is a moral agent, such that the specific movements of his particular fallen body in particular fallen time can be free and meaningful, a worship of the Most Holy Trinity in spirit and in truth. This is the case, but only in Christ, within the New Covenant brought about by the One Sacrifice.
A fully-bodied rationality -- that is, rationality as, pure and simple, the particular movements of particular fallen bodies in particular fallen time, and nothing more than this -- presents no Catholic difficulty. Far rather, the dependence of the "reasonableness" of human rationality on the meaningfulness of man's work allows a deeper understanding both of human reason and of human work. Thus in many circumstances, within the Church's professions, the word "work" can fruitfully be substituted for the word "reason," and vice-versa.
For example, we can make an instructive exchange of "work" for "reason" in the previously-cited CCC 286: "The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human work." In this way, while not superseding or replacing the original meaning, we emphasize the active, striving, moral character of the human rationality that finds God in his creation.
Similarly, we can reverse the exchange, this time substituting "reason" for "work" in the first sentence of CCC 2427 (which discusses human work), and receive additional understandings perhaps particularly appropriate for men who live in knowledge-based advanced technological economies. (Here I've retained the emphasis given to the first two words, "human work," in the original): "Human reason proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another." Here the transposition of "reason" for the original "work" brings out the active, striving, collaborative, truly creative, and above all, the quintessentially moral character of human reason.
To make the radical character of the argument herein crystal clear, let us transpose a sentence in CCC 2428. In the original, it reads, "Work is for man, not man for work." In the transposition, it reads, "Reason is for man, not man for reason." This transposition might well be read by traditional moral theologians as an abdication of the very foundations of moral theology and an affirmation of Protagoras's statement, "Man is the measure of all things."
To the contrary (so goes the argument herein), the consternation among traditional moral theologians that might erupt should such a transposition be seriously proposed proves that traditional moral theology has not founded itself on the works in time of the Lord Jesus Christ; that is, on the sacraments. Are the Son of God's own works in fallen time - both prior to his Resurrection and Ascension, and the sacraments as well, which are also specific works of the Son of God in fallen time, in and through his Bridal Church, "one flesh" with him through his Cross and Eucharist - "reasonable" because they participate in a "reasonableness" prior to the Lord himself, and to which he is therefore subject? When "Truth himself speaks truly," is the Lord himself thereby making himself guilty of the heresy of "fideism"? Or should we rather take seriously the consistent and ceaseless worship of the Church: Jesus is Lord, his Lordship is universal, he died for all men of all times and places, and by our participation in his redemptive work alone we are saved?
It is unavailing to argue that the transposition, "Reason is for man, not man for reason" can have no Catholic content, simply because it might be read, by some, as an invitation to make man the measure of all things. After all, even the original formulation is vulnerable to a similar critique. "Work is for man, not man for work" can quite obviously be read, by some, as an excuse to be lazy, or more formally, as an invitation to make man the measure of all work.
Furthermore, orthodox Catholics not to-the-death committed to the current provisional wisdom within orthodox Catholic moral theology might just consider the highly positive side of the transposition. Especially in an age of totalitarian states, and of free states with structures so complex that within them it seems we must be "willing slaves," to use C.S. Lewis's term, appeals for men to submit themselves to "reason" can rapidly acquire sinister, even demonic, overtones. Within societies within which "reason" can easily become the will of the stronger, the phrase, "Reason is for man, not man for reason" can have a protective value -- as indeed does the real version of CCC 2428, "Work is for man, not man for work."
To propose a fully-bodied rationality is to propose a Catholic moral theology more able to take seriously the worship of the Church. Within the framework presented here, by making human rationality formally dependent on the sacraments, we can take with more formal, methodological seriousness St. Paul's profession: "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men," [1 Cor 1:25] while at the same time we can profess a moral law written in all men's hearts. This is something that current orthodox Catholic moral theology can not do well, but why is it possible within a fully-bodied rationality?
Not because there is a "value-free" universe "out there" where "reason" lives, but because Jesus really is Lord, because his Kingdom really is universal, because he really did die for all men, because "through Him" not just some things, but really and truly "all things" "were made." Catholics do not need to appeal to a putative "reasonableness" "out there" to make universally applicable moral arguments. All Catholics need do is what they have always done: profess their belief, and celebrate in the sacraments of the Most Holy Catholic Church, the mystery of faith, that Jesus, by his One Sacrifice and by the power of the Holy Spirit, really is the Lord, really is the Bridegroom of his Bride, really is the Head of his Body.
Moreover, if reason is the name of all human work, then it becomes a trivial exercise to solve heretofore enormous "problems," such as the supposed dichotomy between "faith" and "reason." Of course human reason has an "essential autonomy" -- it is man's work, which must in Christ be a covenantal (that is, a literally free) cooperation in the redemptive work of Him who died for all men. To put this another way: imagine if the Holy Father had written an encyclical on the difficulty of resolving the "conflict" between faith and work. What conflict? Catholics would ask.
That is, even for the Catholic, the vast and vexatious "problem" of how to reconcile "faith" and "reason" immediately appears, if rationality is not the name of good old ordinary human work. On the other hand, the moment rationality is made the name of all good old ordinary human work, then for the Catholic, the whole "problem" of "faith" and "reason" disappears. If the a priori of reason truly - systematically, methodologically - is moral agency, is the possibility of worship in the New Covenant; if indeed, with Augustine, we really do literally "believe, in order to understand"; if then "reason" is the movement of fallen bodies in time that complete what is lacking in his afflictions - if it is work; then for the Catholic, there is no difficulty at all, for Catholics already understand work extremely well.
Human rationality is the name of all of man's work in spirit and in truth, of all of man's worship; or more precisely, human rationality is the name of man's munus, his call in the grace of Christ to worship God within the New Covenant, as a nuptial, and thus truly free, being, and hence to collaborate creatively in God's creative work. The pivotal role the word munus plays in Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae is instructive in this context. Humanae Vitae is not only a magisterial protection of the sacrament of matrimony, but also, by the argument given below, as a protection of matrimony, Humanae Vitae is thus also a protection of the foundation of all human rationality as it expresses itself in the world. The word munus plays a pivotal role in delineating the covenantal character of both matrimony and human rationality. The sacrament of matrimony - not some 'principle' or 'quality' 'out there' - is the literal foundation both of the fully human society and of fully human reason within human society.
The sacrament of matrimony is the narrow gate that unites the public work of the Church - its liturgy - with the 'private' worship and work of man, which also completes what is lacking in his afflictions. Eucharistic existence - Eucharistic worship, moral agency, and hence, Eucharistic rationality - is covenantal, nuptial; that is, free, bound by no necessity whatever, and hence literally creative. And matrimony is the one place in all the world by which the world itself becomes nuptial, by which one man and one woman become "one flesh" as an efficacious sign of the nuptial "one flesh" of Christ and his Catholic Church; by which a man and a woman make a true covenant with each other.
No other association or union or bond that men may make has a sacramental character but matrimony; in the 'private' sphere, matrimony alone is completely, fully, eternally, integrally linked to the public worship - the public rationality - of the Bridal Church of the Risen Christ. Hence, matrimony alone is the font of all social and political work that is worship, that completes what is lacking in his afflictions.
All the sacraments are the font of, and strengthen, our rationality - our ability to worship, to work so as to complete what is lacking in his afflictions. The prior rationality of the sacraments, of the public worship of the Church, is the font of, and informs and strengthens, our 'private' worship, our 'private' rationality in the world as individuals. But matrimony alone is the vehicle, the narrow gate chosen by the Lord himself, by which all human association - all politics, all social life - may become rational, may become a worship in spirit and in truth, a true expression of moral agency by the movement of fallen bodies in fallen time, an efficacious sign of the "one flesh" of the Bridegroom and his Bridal Church.
The sacrament of matrimony - in the New Covenant, the integral, free covenant of desperate, ferocious, total, life-long, and life-generating love between a man and a woman, by which they become, not subsumed into each other nor detached from each other but united integrally and freely: "one flesh" - is the sign, the act, and the possibility of covenantal - free, integral, nuptial - existence between a man and a woman. At the very point at which fallenness seems most fallen, most enslaved to the brute necessities of survival, reproduction, competition, and death, the very point - sex - where man appears most inexorably, overwhelmingly driven by forces utterly beyond him, by Cause and Chance, there is matrimony, the sacrament by which the Cross, and therefore, freedom, draws man into a fully human society.
The sacrament of matrimony is thus and forever constitutional of all fully human society. The term 'constitutional' is meant to indicate that the sacrament of matrimony is the a priori of all fully human society, without which fully human society can never even be born, and without which it can not be sustained even for an instant.
Apart from the sacrament of matrimony all of human society - all families, all villages, all cities - are crushed into fallenness merely, for the One Sacrifice establishes the New Covenant, a nuptial relation between the Bridegroom and the Bride, and matrimony, and matrimony alone, is the effective sign by which human society itself becomes nuptial and therefore is created and redeemed. Matrimony is the sole sacrament, the sole movement of fallen bodies in this fallen world, by which, brought to life and nourished in the nuptiality of the Bride and the Bridegroom, fallen men make a true covenant with each other.
This true covenant is the only bond between men - the only one - that is simultaneously both fully 'private,' completely in the world, and fully part of the public worship, the public rationality, the full and integral holiness, of the Bridal Church. Matrimony is the sacramental worship, rationality, work that links and integrates the 'private' rationality, work, and worship of building the human society with the font of rationality, work, and worship in this life, the public worship of the Catholic Church, "one flesh" with her Lord.
Even apart from the development here, in which the sacrament of matrimony explicitly integrates the public work of the Church with the 'private' work of man in the world, because of the steady and consistent profession of Catholic sacramental realism in the face of every historical challenge, in their bones, Catholics know how work relates to faith. Only a repudiation of Catholic sacramental realism can introduce a dichotomy between "faith" and "works."
Similarly (it is being argued here), the long-standing "problem" of "faith and reason" is in actuality a non-problem for Catholics, and by exactly the same argument. Once Catholics understand that "reason" as the Greeks understood it implicitly involves a rejection of Catholic sacramental realism, the "problem" of reconciling "faith" and "reason" disappears for the Catholic. It is formally impossible to systematically reconcile Catholic faith with some sort of "natural," "value-free" "reason," because the definition of "reason" being used therein can have no Catholic interest.
On the other hand, once human reason is solidly the name of ordinary human work, no Catholic will ever again have a problem reconciling "faith" and "reason," and for one very good and deeply Catholic reason: Catholics understand work. They understand the work that is called suffering without complaint; they understand the work called building a city; they understand the work called juggling before a statue of Our Lady. Catholics understand the relationship of faith and work in their bones, and because they do, Catholics can easily understand the relationship of faith and rationality, the name of all fully human work.
That is, Catholics understand that Our Lady's juggler (in the famous story) was doing meaningful work because the sacraments are real, because in and through the One Sacrifice, the particular movements of fallen bodies in time ("fallen" only in the theological sense - the juggler was a good juggler!) that the juggler in the story caused to occur in front of Our Lady's statue (because he wanted to give her something, and he had nothing else to give her but his juggling) was a creative and free participation in Our Lord's sacrifice and thus was real worship. (In the story, in view of witnesses who had observed the juggler with derision, Our Lady then appeared to him, and smiled).
Catholics need to look very closely at the juggler. If, and only if, those particular movements of the particular objects he was throwing and catching were meaningful -- if they were worship of the Most Holy Trinity in and through his gift to Our Lady -- then and only then can the particular movements of man's neurons and synapses be meaningful, be worship, be "reasonable" -- and not otherwise. If human intellection is not an 'example' of a time-less "rationality" 'out there', but rather is fully bodied, such that human intellection, really and truly, is nothing more than man moving his neurons and synapses around (or whatever we've got in there) at particular times and in particular ways, then the "reasonableness" of our intellection resolves to the question of whether Our Lady's juggler was a moral agent, capable, simply by moving fallen bodies around in fallen time, of worship in spirit and in truth.
Catholics know in their bones that all human work has the character of juggling in front of Our Lady's statue. Its meaningfulness depends solely on whether the sacraments are real, on whether the particular movements of fallen bodies in fallen time that we cause to occur can be a participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christ.
Catholics understand both the essential indigence, and the essential autonomy and dignity, of ordinary human work. No Catholic -- except perhaps a few theologians in very weak moments -- would ever understand what Our Lady's juggler was doing as a "type" or "expression" of some more "real" thing. Indeed, in the story, it was the very indigence of his juggling, the fact that it could not be seen to be an "expression" of some more "real" or "proper" thing, which prompted the scorn of the witnesses.
Catholics automatically understand the activity of Our Lady's juggler as just itself, as just his work, as his worship. His acts just sit there and stubbornly refuse to be anything more than balls being thrown and caught, on a particular day, in a particular way. It would be slightly unfair -- but only slightly -- to remark that this one story of Our Lady's Juggler is in itself enough to repudiate the foundations of traditional orthodox Catholic moral theology.
Within that moral theology, the story of Our Lady's juggler is just a blank surd. Within that theology, the 'material singular' is meaningful only with reference to its 'perfection.' The juggling must be made into an 'example' of some much more wonderful and time-less essence or category or principle, in order to be meaningful. But the point of the story of Our Lady's Juggler is that there was no such 'category,' no 'example'; he just tried to love Our Lady, by moving some balls around, not as an 'example' of something else, but just as itself.
At best, within classic moral theology, the story of Our Lady's Juggler does not "fit"; it is formally incomprehensible; which is to say, a trained classical theologian would automatically, reflexively, as a matter of theological method, be unable to see the Juggler's activity, except as an 'example' of some 'higher' reality. On the other hand, if it were insisted that what the Juggler did was truly a 'material singular,' not linked to a 'perfection,' but only to the 'foolishness' of the One Sacrifice, classic moral theology might well consider such an argument to be a blanket invitation to subjectivism, to chaos, to relativism, to insanity. For within classic moral theology, rationality can not be fully bodied; to be meaningful, to be rational, all work - yes, when it comes down to it, even the work of the Lord himself - must be an 'example' of some 'higher' time-less truth.
And yet, because of all the martyrs who died professing the Eucharist, and all the bishops who courageously defended it, and all the grandmothers who knelt before Our Lord in the tabernacle, Catholics understand Our Lady's juggler perfectly. To make rationality fully-bodied is to make it the name of ordinary, garden-variety human work, something Catholics understand in their bones as the worship of the Father in and through the New Covenant, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And finally, an orthodox Catholic could well ask, what is the Catholic difficulty -- not the classical Greek difficulty, not any kind of pagan difficulty, but the Catholic difficulty -- in making rationality actually, literally, formally, systematically, methodologically dependent on the actual sacraments of the actual Catholic Church?
To say it again, human rationality, human reason, is the name of all human work. Only if human work is meaningful is human rationality really "rational," and not otherwise; and this question of course comes down to whether the sacraments are real. That is, it comes down to whether the particular movements of Jesus Christ's fallen body in fallen time were redemptive, and whether he, by the power of the Holy Spirit, continues to mediate the grace of the One Sacrifice in fallen time in and through the particular movements of fallen bodies in fallen time known as the sacraments of his Bride and Body, the Catholic Church.
A brief reprise may be helpful. Moral agency is prior to all rationality. Man is made moral, so that he can be rational. Rationality is not a time-less Thing 'out there' but instead is fully bodied, and therefore depends utterly on the prior possibility of moral agency. Thus, "rationality" is absolutely nothing more than fallen bodies moving around in particular ways at particular times and places, which complete what is lacking in Our Lord's afflictions. Sometimes those moving bodies are neurons and synapses, or whatever we've got in our brains. Sometimes they're the movements of a juggler's body, in front of a statue of Our Lady. That's it - rationality is fallen bodies moving in particular ways in fallen time and space, which complete what is lacking in Our Lord's afflictions. That's all there is to rationality.
Making human reason nothing more than particular movements of fallen bodies in fallen time and space might well horrify the Greeks, but it need not be troubling to a Catholic in any way. There already is a traditional Catholic word for this kind of movement of fallen bodies in time and space. It is "work." Catholics understand work. The Catholic can never find any conflict between faith and works. Thus, once one abandons the Greeks entirely, and makes "rationality" the name and the end of all work, work from the scholar and from his grandmother, and from the juggler, too, then the Catholic can no longer find any conflict between faith and "reason," because reason is nothing more or less than good old Catholic work.
Of course, Catholics (unlike Protestants, Greek philosophers, Gnostics, etc.) find no conflict between faith and works because the Catholic definition of 'work' depends completely on the strictest Catholic sacramental realism. Why would fallen bodies moving around in fallen time and space ever be 'moral'? Which is to say, how could this ever complete what is lacking in Our Lord's afflictions? Only because "This is My Body" and "This is My Blood" mean exactly what the Catholic Church professes.
It all comes down to whether the particular movements of Our Lord, One Flesh with his Body and Bride, the Catholic Church, and not as an "example" of some supposedly more substantial reality but in and of themselves, ex opere operato, by the Spirit whom he sent, do in fact reveal the Father completely, do in fact reconcile all men to the Father, and do in fact mediate the grace of the One Sacrifice to all men in all times and places. If this be true - since this be true - then human reason can be the name and the end of good old Catholic work, and the supposed conflict between faith and reason is unmasked as a conflict between a faith that has its origin in the actual, specific, living work of Christ in and through the Body of his Bride, the Catholic Church, and a "reason" that in the end must deny such an origin and tries to find some other. Admittedly, a fully bodied moral agency and a fully bodied rationality are not traditional Catholic thoughts. But in truth, why should it trouble even one Catholic, if moral agency, and thence the very possibility of rationality, really do depend utterly on the reality of the sacraments?
The definition of rationality given here notably unites the acts of the scholar with the acts of his grandmother, and both of those with the sacramental worship of the Catholic Church, in a way more systematically rigorous, less merely nominal, and allows moral agency within complex socio-cultural ecologies per se (i.e., not as 'really' villages) to become thinkable - but with consequences that are (as always) finally bearable only within the strictest Catholic sacramental realism.
I'm almost finished. To continue: if biologically secondary morality exists - if indeed one of its manifestations is the city itself - then conceiving the modern moral task as 'extending' the Ten Commandments - if that 'extending' is purely by means of metaphorical elaborations of biologically primary conceptions of 'fairness,' 'sharing,' 'family,' 'village,' etc. - is inadequate, probably dangerously inadequate, to covenantal adherence to the Ten Commandments within complex socio-cultural ecologies per se.
Within those biologically primary 'intuitive' conceptions, amorality and naivete become the sole lenses through which one can look at human activity within 'modern life,' - and that can't be right. The following - by no means a comprehensive treatment - merely examines some implications, if moral agency in modern life has not only biologically primary, but also biologically secondary, components.
Moral agency within complex socio-cultural ecologies. A 'modern' refusal to keep the Ten Commandments - in the most traditional meaning of keeping them - on grounds that 'modern life' has superseded the context for that 'reading' of the Ten Commandments is (just for starters) untenable even according to modern science.
Biologically primary social contexts such as families will exist in all biologically secondary contexts, since the biologically secondary never once 'supersedes' the biologically primary. Thus, the issue (as ever) is keeping the Ten Commandments, not 'relevance.'
(It may one day be possible to use biologically secondary abilities to destroy or to subvert biological primary ones, to 'supersede' them in that sense. However, the use of biologically secondary abilities - e.g., genetic manipulation - to corrupt man's capacities such that he would no longer have a biologically primary grasp of and impulse toward 'fairness,' 'family,' one-to-one reciprocal relationships, etc. is already accounted for within the most traditional meaning of the Ten Commandments, since, e.g., deliberately breeding sociopaths is as evil as deliberately rearing them).
Biologically secondary moral agency is defined as co-opting or 'standing on the shoulders' of biologically primary abilities in order to worship God, worship which has as its fruit, and is, rationality, the completion in fallen time of what is lacking in his afflictions. Its exercise is relevant in both biologically primary and biologically secondary social ecologies. Though qualitatively different from biologically primary moral agency, it is simply another aspect of moral agency, rather than a 'higher' one.
If it exists, biologically secondary moral agency would have predictable features in common with all biologically secondary skills.
Such implications are not in any way peculiar to biologically secondary moral agency, but are simply consequences of the nature of all biologically secondary social and cognitive abilities.
We should therefore also expect both the exercise of, and the invention of the possibility for, biologically secondary moral agency to require large doses of effortful attention, patience, and determination. An even more important ingredient might be humility, since, as biologically secondary, all aspects of biologically secondary moral agency have to be invented before they can be practiced, and they will certainly not be invented at will or at need, nor can anyone even predict what they might look like before they are invented.
We would also expect that, like all biologically secondary skills, biologically secondary moral agency would not be ubiquitous within human cultures and populations, would be fragile rather than robust even then, and (a bombshell), if some aspects of it bear any similarity to quantum physics, those aspects might be correct, but nonetheless counter-intuitive, even esoteric.
Aristotelian physics has in the last part of the twentieth century been termed by some as 'folk physics'; which is to say, Aristotelian physics is a mere - if extremely complicated - elaboration of 'folk' or biologically primary conceptions of matter, energy, and motion [e.g., McCloskey, M. (1983): "Naive Theories of Motion". In D. Gentner & A. Stevens (eds), Mental Models (Hillsdale: Erlbaum).]. So, for example, a veritable torrent of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim commentators, with nary a whimper from their 'common sense,' for centuries dutifully repeated Aristotle's statement in On the Heavens (I.vi) that of two bodies the one with twice the mass will fall from the same height in one-half the time. In a sense, then, all modern science begins with the triumph of reality over 'folk physics'; which is to say, modern science began with the triumph of reality over elaborations, however complicated, of 'common sense' - of biologically primary - conceptions of matter, energy, and motion.
Consider that biologically secondary moral agency might exist. While speaking and laughing and wondering if our neighbor will cheat us are biologically primary social and cognitive skills, then not only multiplication and reading and modern physics and modern science, but also some aspects of moral agency, may be biologically secondary. A biologically primary 'folk morality', a common-sense morality analogous to our common-sense ideas of matter, energy, and motion, may not then be the sole moral sense that man possesses. In that case, then:
Some substantial, and perhaps startling, conclusions can now be drawn from what has been built up so far. 'Complex' socio-cultural ecologies, especially knowledge-based advanced technological economies, strain to the breaking point customary or 'natural' ideas of human moral agency. Because the structures of such societies can not be conceived of as life in a family or a small village, huge parts of human life then appear to be amoral or 'value-free' venues into which human persons occasionally intrude the morality of the family or the village. At best, as Lewis and Dawson project, men become "willing slaves of the welfare state."
Thus, in this view, man must live his life within 'complex' and therefore fundamentally amoral socio-cultural ecologies, in which even the possibility of his moral agency and thence his rationality are jeopardized; in which, for example, "education" is merely the name of that which enables one to live within these ecologies. On the other hand, man could attempt a return to the village; however, if such a flight were even possible, it would almost be guaranteed to make his life exceedingly more nasty, brutish, and short.
Faced with these alternatives, men choose to be "willing slaves" of these at best amoral socio-cultural ecologies, within which "real" moral agency (the moral agency, and for that matter, the rationality, of the family and the village) may perhaps sporadically operate. In the small, since all men always operate within the moral agency and the rationality of the family and the small village and 'naturally' see 'complex' socio-cultural ecologies as a kind of moral blank, man can and does 'naturally' build what would seem to him a fundamentally incoherent, but marginally coherent, "true" moral and thus rational life, amidst the vast and perhaps ominous moral and rational blankness of the complex socio-cultural ecology that surrounds and even permeates his existence. It is not too much to say that within such thoughts, the entire modern world, as itself and not as a pretend family or village, becomes formally, methodologically, incapable of evangelization.
To engage that world, the Catholic might pretend that it is a family or a small village, and it is neither. As has been argued here, this will remain a persistent tendency within both Catholic and non-Catholic thought, simply because at least our first approximation of what is moral and reasonable is the context of the family and the small village, and it will continue to be so.
Alternatively, the Catholic might choose to be a participant in the design and building of "structures" in which the moral agency and thus the rationality of the family and the small village are regarded as superseded. In this view, in other words, it is "best" that man make himself a slave, so that he can live in a welfare state. As is increasingly evident, and as both Lewis and Dawson already saw, what man is, what rationality is, what moral agency is, then becomes the property of the managers of these complex socio-cultural ecologies. National and trans-national elites must be allowed to define what is "reasonable" and "moral," or the complex systems they manage, on which we all depend, may be threatened.
Finally, the Catholic could try to ignore the entire warp and woof of modern existence, as at worst demonic, resolutely anti-family and anti-village, or as at best fundamentally irrelevant to "real" moral agency and "real" rationality, and engage it actively only defensively, when it appears to intrude on the family and the village.
Within any of these three approaches, the Catholic stance toward complex socio-cultural ecologies can not but be systematically incoherent. Yet even more than this, within any of these approaches, the modern world, as itself and not a family or a village, can not be loved. The entire modern world is - at best - nothing more than a moral blank, as evangelizable as a rock or a tree stump. But the analysis here allows for much more fruitful thoughts.
If the possibility of moral agency itself depends, not entirely on man's life in a family or a village (though it does depend and always will depend in part on that), but in the end and more generally on the prior possibility that man can worship in spirit and in truth in and through the Eucharistic One Sacrifice, then the 'amoral' or 'value-free' quality of the institutions of knowledge-based advanced technological economies disappears. Instead, all of existence within 'complex' socio-cultural ecologies immediately pulses with the possibility of moral agency, moral striving, and thus, with potential rationality, and not as a pretend family or village, but truly as itself. For example, not only a simple thing like multiplication, but all of modern science, can immediately be seen as biologically secondary expressions of moral agency.
Which is to say, both simple multiplication, and modern science itself, are not merely venues, whether morally neutral or amoral, within which biologically primary moral agency may take place - they are not 'value-free' venues that are moral only insofar as men may deploy the morality of the family and the village within them. No doubt, they may 'feel' like that at least at times, since that is a characteristic of all biological secondary social and cognitive skills. (For example, to most beginning readers, reading itself feels artificial, contrived, rule-obsessed, 'unnatural.')
But the feeling of 'artificiality' attached to all biologically secondary social and cognitive skills, and their lack of direct connection to the biologically primary, are one and the same. We do not easily connect such things with the emotions and moral feelings that are a constant feature of the family and the small village. But that does not mean they are amoral or 'value-free.' Instead, both are examples of biologically secondary moral agency. They stand on the shoulders of biologically primary moral agency, but they are not reducible to it, and can not be conceived of entirely within biologically primary categories. Perhaps most significantly, their exercise may not ever "feel" moral, in the way that the exercise of biologically primary moral agency often does, but such exercise will remain absolutely and completely moral, never amoral nor 'value-free.'
Both the multiplication tables and the whole of modern science are biologically secondary. They do not 'emerge' 'naturally.' By human moral agency; that is, solely within a quite particular history of particular bodies moving in particular ways, they were created; and solely by constant enduring human moral agency, they are sustained.
From the above, it would appear that biologically secondary moral agency exists, and that both multiplication and modern science are expressions of it. As aspects of truly moral, if biologically secondary, moral agency, of course, both multiplication and modern science must actively be sustained by particular movements of man's fallen body in fallen time and space. Science is no wind-up device, no eternal Thing 'out there.' There is no "self-correcting" science. In a real sense, there is no "science." There are only the moral acts of scientists. A further discussion of the nature of morality, and hence of rationality, within scientific inquiry may help me explain more clearly what fully-bodied rationality is.
What would it mean for a scientist, qua scientist, to act morally or immorally? Certainly, a scientist does not act immorally simply if his results are considered inconvenient. If, for example, the current activity of the loyal Catholic academy regarding the theory of evolution consists largely in hoping that the theory of evolution will go away, that is perhaps not a sufficient reason to regard evolution as immoral, irrational, and incorrect, especially given the professions of CCC 283-284.
Rather, by the terms here, all true moral agency, thus all true rationality, literally completes "what is lacking in his afflictions." As such, inquiry is a creative act whose outcome is not predictable, nor even comprehensible, in advance. Here, and only here, is the sure foundation for the autonomy of man's inquiry. Inquiry is part of the holy dignity of worship itself, which as covenantal is not part of the realm of power, but rather is active and free on the part of man no less than of God. Inquiry is this, or it is nothing.
The completion of what is lacking in the afflictions of the Son of God himself is surely no task for a slave, a servant, or a mere student. Indeed, even the act of imagining that man can accomplish a true completion of the One Sacrifice of Our Lord and Savior requires the strictest Catholic sacramental realism, a relationship between Christ and his bridal Church that is utterly beyond fallenness, yet never prescinding from it. Yet if inquiry is not strictly an aspect of man's worship in Christ, in and through the very body of his Catholic Church, then it is completely meaningless, and no amount of squirming can change that. All grace is the grace of Christ. If there is a place in the fallen world where that grace is not, then that place is devoid even of the thought of worship, and thus devoid of all moral agency and hence, of rationality.
The scientist, when he acts morally, addresses questions to the reality under study, and is prepared to abandon everything in the service of the reality he is studying. When the scientist does this, the Catholic knows him to be making science an aspect of worship. The scientist is saying, "Let reality matter more than I." And when he addresses his questions, sparing nothing of himself, and thus asks his questions to reality as an aspect of worship, reality will answer him as it will, and no man - least of all the Catholic, who can call the scientist's act by its true name, worship - can say otherwise.
Put differently, "reasonable" is no Thing 'out there,' which men somehow possess, and by which they can judge their activities and the answers that reality gives them. Much to the contrary, worship, and thence moral agency, is prior to all possible meanings of "reasonable." Worship, and worship alone, allows man to correct and to expand his own idea of what actually is "reasonable." If man worships, if he truly leaves nothing of himself in the questions he asks, then reality will correct and instruct his ideas of what is reasonable and wise, and provide him with the resources to address even better questions in the future.
The Catholic, nourished by the sacraments, is the only one who can be utterly unafraid of what reality might reply to man's questions. For only the Catholic can call this process of inquiry by its true, full name: part of the worship of the Most Holy Trinity, in and through the Body of the Catholic Church, eternal Bride of Jesus the Son of Mary and the Son of God. And in the absence of the strictest Catholic sacramental realism, all inquiry becomes the motion of fallen bodies in fallen time merely, it does not and can not complete what is lacking in Our Lord's afflictions, and thus it collapses into meaninglessness. In other words, unless all inquiry is finally a worship in spirit and truth, unless it be an aspect of theology, defined as in St. Anselm's phrase, "faith seeking understanding," (which consciously or unconsciously picks up St. Augustine's "I believe, in order to understand"), then it is not inquiry, but idolatry, a search for power, not understanding.
When the scientist qua scientist sins, he engages in idolatry. For the only alternative to worship is some form of idolatry. When the bodily movements of one who would call himself a scientist no longer allows reality to speak freely, however it wishes, purely as itself, then not only does the scientist sin, but at that very moment, he is no longer doing science.
The scientist can devote his entire life to questions that, five minutes after he retires, are all rendered irrelevant by better questions, and really have done science. The scientist does not sin, he does not abandon science, simply if reality eventually tells him that his ideas are incorrect. It is not merely poetically descriptive, it is precisely accurate, to say that when a scientist behaves as a scientist, he allows all his questions, his entire inquiry, to be crucified into time. It is the crucifixion of all his questions and all his inquiry into time, not the time-less correctness of his answers, which makes him a scientist.
This crucifixion is first of all the crucifixion of his questions into an historical tradition of inquiry. Whatever his tradition consists of, it is, by faith, fully historical, fully bodied. There simply are no categories that are time-less, and thus there is no inquiry that could address categories as not historical, as not fully bodied. Jesus is Lord as the Lord of history. He is the complete revelation of the Father; we may not look "behind" him to some putative really real, time-less reality, or he is not truly Lord.
But the fully bodied, fully historical character of all human inquiry leads to relativism only if Jesus is not the Lord of bodies and of history. Certainly, if man has no Lord, to whom he may address his questions, and if there is no real Creation, such that it is good and very good, but rather if all that exists is merely a time-less Thing, then man can not worship. Thus he can not ask questions in covenantal relation to the Creation and to the Lord of Creation, the Lord of bodies and history, in and through his Catholic Church. Under these circumstances, man could not truly address any questions, because he could not worship. He could only try to dominate what is, as best he can.
Here Newton's remark, that his own inquiry was possible because he stood on the shoulders of giants, is indeed pertinent. A scientist's questions are first of all crucified into time by making them always stand on the shoulders of the questions of others. His questions are linked to theirs, to their history, to their responsibility. A scientist's own questions are meant to go on and go further from the questions he has learned to ask, they are meant to be even better questions than the questions that had previously been possible. So, for example, every scientific paper now begins with a review of the extant literature on the topic.
Second, the scientist's questions are crucified into time by being subject to the questions of others within his tradition of inquiry. Thus the scientist, not simply as a "scientist" in the abstract but as a person, in part subjects himself, his fortune and reputation, to the praise and blame of others.
Finally, the scientist's questions are crucified into time because he, along with all his fellows, freely crucifies his entire tradition of inquiry into time. He accepts that his entire inquiry may one day simply be played out, unable to ask any questions of higher quality, that it will be as irrelevant to the future of inquiry as the Ptolemaic epicycles became to the future of physics - that it will die, perhaps even ignominiously, simply abandoned.
Thus in principle the crucifixion of a scientist's questions into time is total. Not only his own questions, but the entire historical tradition of inquiry within which he framed and posed his questions, may not be vindicated. It may simply die, and no one will mourn, for it will mean that some other tradition could then ask better questions than had been able to be asked from within his own. A true scientist crucifies his own questions totally into time. He accepts that his questions, which depend on the soundness of the tradition within which he frames and poses them, will one day be as incomprehensible, vaporous, and irrelevant as the "penetrating" questions posed by some mediocre medieval exponent of the doctrine of the Four Humors. Thus, through it all, it is never by being "correct" - which could only mean, by being vindicated at the eschaton - but solely by the crucifixion of his questions and his entire tradition of inquiry into time, that he remains a scientist.
The scientist sins qua scientist when he refuses, qua scientist, to be crucified into time, when he no longer hopes only to be at the service of the reality he is trying to understand. When a scientist refuses to let reality matter more than himself and all his questions and all his theories, then he is automatically engaged in a project of power. He is no longer inquiring, no longer engaging in worship. By any Catholic meaning of the term, he is no longer doing science.
Thus the Catholic knows that there can be no Theory of Everything. Science as a quest to comprehend reality fully, therefore to possess it in its hidden secretness, is the quest to have absolute power over it. Such a quest, if it is serious, is not only a sin, it makes science immediately disappear. There can be no Theory of Everything, not because man is not yet "strong" enough, or that some god 'prevents' him, but simply because the Most Holy Trinity is a community of persons, not a domination or a subsumption, the living God who has created man to be in a covenantal, a free and integral, relationship with him, a "plan of sheer goodness." [CCC 1]
There can be no Theory of Everything, then, because the questions we address are questions not to some object, but to our God, who is a living God, and to his Creation, which he has created as free and integral, covenantally related to himself in "a plan of sheer goodness." Which is to say, there can be no Theory of Everything because God is not boring. He is "fascinating and mysterious." [CCC 208] We can understand him, and his creation, more and more, but we also can never get to the end of understanding either him or his Creation.
It's fine to pursue a Theory of Everything as a metaphor for finding out more than we know now. However, to pursue such a quest with real seriousness does assume that ultimately, God, and his Creation, is boring! - and that assumption, to put it mildly, is un-Catholic in the extreme. The Theory of Everything as man's serious quest for literal 'Comprehension' of God and Creation is nothing but a primitive echo of Original Sin, a refusal of covenantal, sacramental existence, a quest for absolute power that would bring about more death and suffering, and ironically could end only with man completely, perfectly bored with himself and everything else.
Asking questions of reality as a search for absolute power is a serious sin, and in that sin, science immediately disappears. Yet a radical incuriosity about reality is much the greater sin, for that is the decision to say that reality is simply not very interesting. To be systematically incurious about reality is to reject God, who is "fascinating and mysterious." The turn from inquiry, from questions addressed to reality, is a decision to control, dominate, "manage" our own hearts, so that they are no longer "restless, until they rest in Thee."
Science is no self-sustaining project; unlike all biologically primary skills, which by definition are culturally robust, science, like all biologically secondary skills, is immensely fragile. Human villages will exist for as long as man may live; but science will exist only so long as scientists continue to allow themselves to be crucified into time; for that is the only way by which they may allow Reality both to remain fully interesting, and to matter more than they.
There is no Thing 'out there' called "modern science." There are only the moral choices of scientists. Over the last centuries, despite all their sins and all their failings, thousands of individual scientists have made the moral choice, regardless of their fallen drive for dominance and power, to freely allow all their questions to be crucified into time, so that Reality may answer their questions freely, as itself, and not as an object of their domination. And every time they made that choice, science once again lived on the face of the earth.
The development of biologically secondary moral agency herein has fudged, eluded, and downright ignored very important matters; indeed, to condemn the development here in those terms would be to drastically understate the poverty of this argument. I have run roughshod over much faithful moral theology -- disregarded its variety, subtlety, and precision -- in my haste to get to my even ruder point, that we should simply abandon some of its fundamental assumptions.
More than this, I have merely pointed at, rather than legitimately argued, the possibility of a truly responsible fully-bodied rationality. For example, if biologically primary moral agency prompts a kind of 'folk morality,' why indeed should not biologically secondary moral agency supersede it, as modern physics supersedes 'folk physics'? If as a matter of temporary fact, biologically secondary moral agency must stand on the shoulders of our evolutionary heritage - the biologically primary evolved moral agency of the family and the small village - why shouldn't we alter our bodies and those of our progeny to 'correct' our 'irrelevant,' 'outmoded' evolved moral sense as quickly as we become able to do so?
Yet this is to point out only one of the dread implications of what, exactly, I have explicitly said. By making all of rationality dependent on the prior possibility of human moral agency, and made its use and further development a work of fallen man in history in union with the One Sacrifice, I have made rationality fully free, fully moral; which means, fully exposed to man's sinfulness, not safely 'out there' in a time-less realm but forever as vulnerable to man's corruption and destruction as anything in this life.
For safety's sake, we should flee from rationality as fully free, fully moral, as thus possessing an "essential autonomy" as essential and extensive as that within which our First Parents brought death into the world. What sort of God is this, "fascinating and mysterious," who creates us within "a plan of sheer goodness," who would allow us to break the world, to break ourselves into pieces, to fall as far as we may? If, without remainder, we must be crucified into time in order simply to sustain, let alone improve, human reason, then our munus in this life is impossible, hopeless; that is, it is impossible, it is hopeless, without the True Cross to cling to, without the Eucharist, without the sacraments, without the continual works in time of the Risen Christ, "one flesh" with his Bridal Church.
Further implications and discussion. The possible existence of biologically secondary moral agency has large consequences both for moral theology and for religious education. Trivially, moral education as encouraging the 'natural' emergence of moral behavior (even when this effort does not deny the Fall), or as efforts to inculcate the 'global village', are at best enshrining the Ptolemaic epicycles; and at worst, they are naive romanticism or even sinister politics.
Secondly, we are here to build a city, not a village. Augustine, and even Aquinas, in his way, knew that, however much their preconceptions begged them to ignore it. Villages emerge, but cities must be built, and they are built upon principles, and upon moral acts, that perforce include those of the family and the village, but which no family and no village could ever contain or in any way even account for.
All families, all villages, all cities are crushed into fallenness apart from the sacrament of matrimony, for matrimony, and matrimony alone, is the effective sign of all moral agency in the social world, and thence of all rationality in the social world. For the proper end of moral agency is rationality, which is not a Thing 'out there' but the worship of the Most Holy Trinity within the New Covenant; it is work, the completion in man's body of what is lacking in our Lord's afflictions, and the completion of rationality in the world is man being civil by cooperating with God in building the holy city, the New Jerusalem.
The New Jerusalem is after all a city, not a village; which is to say, the proper end of moral agency; that is, rationality, is human work, a worship of the Most Holy Trinity in and through the Cross, in and through the sacraments of the Most Holy Catholic Church, and has as its fruit, and is, the building of the holy city, the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem is a city that must stand on the shoulders both of the family and the village, but as a true city, it is not merely a larger family or a larger village, never merely an elaboration or refinement, however complicated, even of the holiest family and the holiest village.
While we stand around the altar of the One Sacrifice, the created order is free and integral. In the Eucharist, the created order, including we ourselves, is not merely a projection of man's fallen impulses and desires, but may speak honestly, as itself, to man. In the New Covenant, and only there, genuine science - genuine surprise, intelligibility that not even in principle is predictable in advance - becomes possible. That is, in the Eucharist man may have an experience of order in the present that is the product of overflowing love, "sheer goodness," [cf. CCC 1] and is in no way the grim product of brute power, of enslavement to Cause and Chance. By our Lord's One Sacrifice alone, the created order, though fallen, is concretely present to us with the very generosity, the very hospitality, of God, as a "knowable unknown," and can speak honestly to us about itself and about ourselves.
Thus by studying the created order we can have a (provisionally) better understanding of that New Covenant within which we are created and redeemed. By considering that the New Jerusalem is in fact a city, we can use our knowledge that a city is neither a greatly-extended family nor a much larger village, to come to a deeper understanding of the New Jerusalem, the holy city which is fully present, but only in obscurity, in sign, in the Catholic Church, in fallen time, but which in a mysterious way God is working out universally and which will be our home on the Last Day. Using our better understanding of a city, we can propose that the New Jerusalem must stand on the shoulders of the family and the village, but being a city, the New Jerusalem is neither merely a vastly extended family nor merely a very large and complicated village.
In this way we are able to ascertain that the Church, while it remains the effective sign of the family of God and of the people (that is, the village) of God, is also and more than this, for the New Jerusalem, of which the Church is also the sign, is a city, and is not reducible either to a family or a village.
Thus the fullest rationality, the true end of moral agency, is civilization, the process of building and inhabiting the New Jerusalem. That is, rationality, the completion in man's own body, as man joins his body to the Cross in and through the Body of the bridal Church, of what is lacking in our Lord's afflictions, has its ultimate expression - an expression that does not subsume any others - in man cooperating covenantally with God in the building of the holy city, the New Jerusalem.
Moreover, this ultimate worship of the Most Holy Trinity stands on the shoulders of the fully true and real worship man gives God in the family and the village, and as has been seen, all of this society is pointless, unfree, enslaved in necessity and meaninglessness, without the Eucharist and its effective sign within human society, matrimony.
The covenantal, free relationship of order. The exact structure of the family, the village, or the city is not predictable by the sacrament of matrimony. The relationship between the sacrament of matrimony and the family, the village, and the city is fully covenantal. Obviously, the children of a marriage are covenantally related to the marriage. Children are not in any way reducible to the reality of the man or the woman or the couple; they are not mere elaborations, however complicated, of their parents or of the marriage. The children are covenantally related to matrimony; that is, children are a Good Surprise. Nor is the family reducible in any way to the man or the woman, their marriage, or to their children. It too is a Good Surprise. Similarly, the village is not reducible to the family, and, as has been seen, the city is not reducible to a marriage, a family, or a village.
Therefore, fully human society is constituted within a covenantally, a free, union of Good Surprises, each not subsumed into or predictable by the other. A sacrament sets free, it does not enslave. We can not look at matrimony and predict what the New Jerusalem will look like. Nonetheless, it can be said with certainty that to the extent that any actual city is unable to make the sacrament of matrimony constitutional of it and of all human society within it, it is irrational, it is not man being civil, it is not the project by which man completes what is lacking in our Lord's afflictions; and to the extent that any actual city actively repudiates the sacrament of matrimony, it has turned away from God, it is evil.
Rationality, the bodily human completion within fallen time of our Lord's already-complete sacrifice, is fundamentally an impossible possibility. That is, no necessity, whether of logic or any other, attaches to the possibility of human moral agency, and thence to the bodily human completion of our Lord's afflictions. This possibility simply does not belong to the realm of necessity, which is the realm of sarx, fallenness. Rather, it is given ex nihilo, in the gratuity of the One Sacrifice itself, and thus moral agency, and therefore rationality, is inherently creative and unpredictable, while remaining altogether ordered to that One Sacrifice and thus to the worship of the Most Holy Trinity in and through the sacraments and the teaching of Holy Mother Church.
The sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the other moral and doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church, are constitutional of man, moral agency, rationality, and human society; without them, everything is crushed into the inhuman, the amoral, the irrational, into power and meaninglessness. Yet since these are constitutional of man and all that exists in a way utterly beyond fallenness - since they are constitutional of covenantal, nuptial relation in the Eucharist - neither are they encompassing of or predictive of man, moral agency, rationality, and human society. Sacramental grace, in a word, orders by creating the possibility of further Good Surprises.
From this point of view
But we all should care because we knew how to read long before we knew we were exercising a 'biologically secondary ability.' We are probably already exercising biologically secondary moral agency, but without knowing it, and the preceding gives hints about where to look for it.
The good news is that we are probably already exercising more moral agency in 'modern life' than it 'feels' like to us; the bad news is that, while we continue to have severe problems even with garden-variety moral agency, we are literally going to have to invent new aspects of moral agency just to keep up.
Moreover, unless rationality is the physical expression of moral agency, and thus is tied directly to the Cross, all rationality and all moral agency that goes beyond the village and is not expressible in terms of the village, becomes variously "value-free" or "content-neutral" or even amoral venues within which 'real' moral agency - the moral agency of the village - occasionally functions; and this is not merely to impede the evangelization of the modern world, it is summarily to eliminate the possibility of the evangelization of the modern world per se, as itself and not a village.
And yet, every time that the multiplication tables are learned, or even used, that act per se is a stupendously moral - a ferociously moral - act, the deliberate and particular motion of particular human bodies within the history of salvation, within which a genuine product of a true city, thus a product that will never just 'emerge' but must painstakingly be built within history, and assiduously sustained within history, once again is built, and is sustained, against all the forces that might overcome it, or that might cause it to fall into non-being, perhaps never again to appear.
Such a simple thing, multiplication. Yet it amply demonstrates the
spectacular 'unnaturalness' of much human moral agency, its inherent
fragility, its essential creativity, which we can not control at will or even
at need, and yet its staggering importance. That man is entrusted with the
munus of building with his own fallen body and in fallen history, a
true city (which can not 'emerge' but must truly be built, and is so fragile
that it must continuously be sustained, or it disappears) and not just a
village, however holy and worshipful we are in it; and not Babel, the city of
pride, but the New Jerusalem, the holy city, the city of unity, is finally
only bearable as man's munus if Jesus is Lord: if the sacraments are
real in exactly the way the Catholic Church forever professes. In no other way
could man sustain his true munus, or even begin it.
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